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forced sterilization

California sets aside $7.5 million in reparations to victims of forced sterilization

California follows Virginia and North Carolina as the third state to compensate victims of the eugenics forced sterilization movement that peaked in the 1930s, setting aside $7.5 million in reparations to victims. 

forced sterilization

Among one of the first states to begin forcibly sterilizing people in the early 1900s, California sterilized more than 20,000 people before its law was repealed in 1979. (Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash)

The nonprofit, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) has been a key leader in pushing for reparations. As an organization, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice is committed to honoring the experiences of Latinas/xs to uphold their dignity, bodies, sexuality, and families. They build Latinas’/xs’ power and cultivate leadership through community education, policy advocacy, and community-informed research to achieve reproductive justice.

“We must address and face our horrific history,” said Lorena Garcia Zermeño, policy and communications coordinator for the advocacy group California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, in a statement to the Associated Press. “This isn’t something that just happened in the past.”

Indeed, the history of forced sterilization in California is not as far in the past as many may think. Among one of the first states to begin forcibly sterilizing people in the early 1900s, California sterilized more than 20,000 people before its law was repealed in 1979. 

However, the Center for Investigative Reporting exposed in 2013 that 144 women in prison were coerced by the state into sterilization procedures between 2005 and 2013. 

California’s proposal for reparations to victims of forced sterilization will also include these women since most of these incarcerated individuals were not given proper counsel, offered alternative treatments, or able to give informed consent to these procedures. 

 

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Facing a horrific chapter in our country’s reproductive healthcare history 

The forced sterilization of thousands by the state cannot be forgotten. It is a horrific chapter in our country’s reproductive healthcare history that needs to be acknowledged. California’s eugenics law enacted in 1909 was one of the first in the United States and it was not the only. Other states, such as Indiana and Washington soon followed and over two dozen states would pass similar laws in the subsequent years.

The law allowed medical officials to order the forced sterilization of people they deemed “feebleminded” or otherwise unfit to have children. Most of these individuals were poor, disabled,  or suffered from untreated psychiatric disorders and a disproportionate number were people of color. They all ranged in age with some as young as 13. Those who supported the eugenics law believed they were improving society by preventing “undesirables” from having children, hoping that forced sterilization would lead to fewer “defective” residents in state care. 

These procedures lasted for seven decades with over 20,000 victims and it’s scale and efficiency was noticed abroad, inspiring similar practices in Nazi Germany

“The promise of eugenics at the very earliest is: ‘We could do away with all the state institutions — prisons, hospitals, asylums, orphanages,'” Paul Lombardo, a law professor at Georgia State University and an expert on the eugenics movement told the Associated Press. “People who were in them just wouldn’t be born after a while if you sterilized all of their parents.”

144 women in prison were coerced by the state into sterilization procedures between 2005 and 2013. (Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash)

This chapter of forced sterilization in California supposedly ended in 1979 with the repeal of the eugenics law. However, we now know sterilizations continued in California prisons appearing to date in 1999 when the state changed its policy for unknown reasons to include “tubal ligation” as part of inmates’ medical care. These coerced procedures continued into the next decade, until 2014 when a state law passed banning sterilization for the purpose of birth control at state prisons and local jails. Facilities are now required to report any “medically necessary” sterilization procedures–which are still allowed under the new law–such as removing cancer or other life-threatening conditions. 

Remembering the victims 

The $7.5 million in reparation to the victims of forced sterilization in the state of California is a good first step in making amends. Under the proposed plan, of the $7.5 million, more than $4 million will go toward the actual payouts. Each survivor is expected to receive about $25,000. 

“I don’t know if it is justice. Money doesn’t pay for what happened to them. But it’s great to know that this is being recognized,” said Stacy Cordova, the niece of Mary Franco, a victim who was sterilized in 1934 when she was just 13 years old. 

Relatives like Stacy are not eligible for the payments, only direct victims. However she says, “For me, this is not about the money. This is about the memory.”

Remembering her aunt, she recalls how Mary Franco loved children and always wanted a family. Paperwork described her as “feeble minded” because of “sexual deviance,” according to Stacy, who has researched her case. Stacy said her aunt was actually molested by a neighbor and her family put Mary in an institution to protect the family’s reputation. She, unfortunately lived a lonely life in a Mexican culture that revered big families, Stacy said.

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Of the remaining funds, $1 million will go toward paying for plaques and markers honoring victims. The remainder of the funds–approximately $2 million will cover an extensive outreach campaign to locate living victims which advocates predict will be difficult. Of the victims, only a few hundred are believed to still be alive. Including the inmates who were most recently sterilized, there are about 600 estimated individuals eligible for reparations. 

However, advocates predict only about 25% of eligible people will ultimately apply for reparations and be paid. The $2 million will be used by California’s Victim Compensation Board to run the program and advertising to locate victims in addition to poring through state records.

Lessons learned from the Women’s March on Washington to move forward

After we marched at the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday, now the big question is what is next? The challenge is to move forward without losing momentum and cohesion. I know we think we can do very little individually but our experience at the Women’s March on Washington proved that we only can move forward when we are there for each other and stand together.

Women;s March on Washington (Photo by Bobbi Pratt)

Women’s March on Washington (Photo by Bobbi Pratt)

As we explained when we launched our trip, our main reason to march was to claim for economic and opportunity equality for Latinas. That is what we do at LatinasinBusiness.us. We empower the Latina working woman to help her break the circle of economic violence that keeps her locked in low paying jobs, lack of opportunity to access key positions of power and decision-making, and the ability to use the enormous pool of talent and leadership that Latinas possess.

Women;s March on Washington (Photo by Bobbi Pratt)

Women;s March on Washington (Photo by Bobbi Pratt)

However, in our journey together with over half million women and men–reported by Associated Press and other media– we learned that there are other very important issues women feel as their priorities and concerns as they face this new Administration.

“We march today for the moral core of this nation, against which our new president is waging a war,” actress America Ferrera told the Washington crowd. “Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack, and a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday. But the president is not America. … We are America, and we are here to stay,” reported ABC News.

What were women’s main interests at Women’s March on Washington?

We learned some valuable lessons that might have in them the answers we seek. Yes, we need to capitalize those lessons to build a platform from where actions need to be taken:

  • Women are decided not to go backwards. Too many years of political fight and struggle have allowed women’s right to vote, equal opportunities in the workplace, and the right to choose.

womens march on washignton pink hats

  • Women are defending their reproductive rights, healthcare, and the right to make decisions over their bodies, their healthcare and their pregnancies.
  • Susana G Baumann, LatinasinBusiness.us and Nelly Reyes, freshie Natural Feminine Care at Women's March on WashingtonWomen are aware of and denouncing the predatory sexual actions of the President. At a time when women are fighting against predatory sexual behavior in the workplace and on campuses all around the country, it is unacceptable for women that those actions are being taken lightly.
  • Women proclaim that diversity and inclusion are the hallmarks of American society. Women believe that acceptance of differences and protecting the vulnerable are the values that make America great.
  • Women feel responsible for future generations, the future of the planet and the moral compass of society. They believe that as mothers and the generators of life, they need to be vigilant against the destruction carried out by power and greed.
  • Women became aware that they only have power when they stand together. The energy and the sense of solidarity we felt at the Women’s March on Washington now need to be translated into real action.

Our trip

We rode with a small but powerful group of very diverse marchers that signed up for the trip sponsored by Freshie Feminine Natural Care and LatinasinBusiness.us. Our group included Latina, Asian, African-American and White women and . There were several religious views including Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian and even a Pastor from the United Church of Christ. We were straight, gay and trans-women and men. In a small group, we encompassed the remarkable diversity of this country. We have never met each other before but an immediate bond grew fonder as the day went by.

We had very productive discussions on our way up, and we all expressed our fears, our concerns and our willingness to continue the resistance. “Yesterday we mourned, today we march, tomorrow we mobilize” was the poster one of our riders proposed as the group’s slogan.

Tasha Warren holding our slogan sign Women's March on Washington

Tasha Warren holding our slogan sign Women’s March on Washington

A mental health provider, Robin Tobias-Kasowitz said, “It was an invigorating day and I feel so proud to have been a part of it. I’m also glad that you are getting right on it and writing this feature. My main concern, as a Psychotherapist, is the mental condition of the new President, a condition mental health providers are very familiar with. I realize how this knowledge is critical in the process of understanding and dealing with Donald Trump and his behavior,” she said.

She believes the new President suffers from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism,” she proceeded to read from the Mayo Clinic website.

Robin Tobias-Kasowitz (L) and Karen Flannery (R) at Women's March on Washington

Robin Tobias-Kasowitz (L) and Karen Flannery (R) at Women’s March on Washington

Kathy Miller, another rider said, “I do feel all alone but more empowered together. I definitely marched for my mom –had her picture on my poster, for my daughter and future grandchildren. I felt everyone acted with dignity and our group was especially kind and caring. Thanks again for including me so I could say I was there and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there with anyone else!”

Nelly Reyes, founder and CEO of freshie Natural Feminine Care added, ”The Women’s March on Washington was an unbelievable event, not only we felt the energy but also the cohesion and the willingness to mobilize against the harm and the hate this new Administration is announcing with its actions and its actors.”

What can we do better going forward?

Although this was a LatinasinBusiness.us initiative, we only had two Latinas signed up for the trip. We have to work harder with Latinas to help them understand that their rights need to be protected and conquered but only if they show up and participate.

Immigration reform is not the only issue that Latinos feel is a priority. Equal opportunity, equal pay, fair treatment under the law and many other issues are still on the table for Latinas and Latinos. However, our participation is vital to show presence and unity. We still must work on creating the bond that will make us advance our voices.

Susana G Baumann, LatinasinBusiness.us and Nelly Reyes, freshie Natural Feminine Care at Women's March on Washington

Susana G Baumann, LatinasinBusiness.us and Nelly Reyes, freshie Natural Feminine Care at Women’s March on Washington

Characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

Mayo Clinic website