The forced sterilizations of tens of thousands of women in the U.S.A. for more than 60 years until the late 1970s has been apologized for by several states, and now there is a call for the Federal government to also apologize.
32 states ran eugenics programs which targeted poor women, those with disabilities, girls raped by older men, and in one North Carolinian case a 10-year-old boy. Tens of thousands of Native women were sterilized in a clear case of attempted genocide.
According to Charon Asetoyer, Comanche, chief executive officer and a founding director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center:
In the state of Virginia, there were 8,300 people who were sterilized. There were 7,600 in North Carolina.
Up to 20,000 women were sterilized in California from 1909 to 1964.
Asetoyer says that the basis of the eugenics movement was that poor people were seen as “inferior human beings who would bring down the gene pool. Native Americans in particular were seen as obstacles to the rich who wanted to control the nation’s natural resources.”
Says Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council:
This was a concerted attack on Indian American women that constituted genocide.
Carmen says she first heard about abuses in the early 1970s, such as a woman who was unable to deliver her full-term baby — and discovered that her cervix had been sewn shut without her knowledge. Stories then emerged of Native American women and girls going in for C-sections or tonsillitis and coming out with tubal ligations.
Native American women were used in Depo-Provera trials without being informed of the risks. Those having Norplant capsules implanted in their arms were then being told that no one had the training to remove it, even when it caused complications. Women in labor were told by the Indian Health Service that they would not be helped unless they agreed to be sterilized.
In 1974, Connie Pinkerton-Uri released a study that claimed one in four Native women had been sterilized without their consent. A limited General Accounting Office study found that between 1973 and 1976 3,400 Native American women were sterilized in just four areas.
Virginia, Oregon, South Carolina and California have all formally apologized. North Carolina had the most aggressive sterilization effort and formally apologized in December 2002; it then established the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation.
Ten years later, the state appears ready to start compensating victims, with a budget appropriation to cover $50,000 for each victim, though the state legislature still has to sign off. 118 victims who are still alive have been verified. The foundation has established a toll-free number, 877-550-6013, and is hoping to hear from North Carolina victims who may now be scattered across the country.
Forced sterilizations using funds from the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity targeted poor black women and the Indian Health Service targeted Native American women — both are federal responsibilities.
Asetoyer says apologies and reparation by states are good things, but she would like to see the federal government make similar amends.
This is a huge stain on the pages of American history. These were atrocities that were committed in our communities, and there has been no acknowledgement, no apology. Why isn’t the federal government apologizing to our women? States are making restitution. The federal government should too.
Picture by gennie catastrophe