The Racist History of Forced Sterilization in the US

On Monday news broke that an employee at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Georgia accused its staff of medical neglect and malfeasance. Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), filed a whistleblower complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Among other allegations, Wooten claimed doctors at the facility performed hysterectomies on detainees without their consent.

ICE stated they take “all allegations seriously” and will defer to their OIG on next steps. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called on the DHS Inspector General to “immediately investigate” the allegations. However, the Medical Director of ICE’s Health Service Corps “vehemently disputes” the allegations made against the ICDC.

While we await further updates, I wanted to provide some historical context to this situation. If true, these allegations will be the latest in a long, horrific history of the forced sterilization of black and brown (and/or otherwise-marginalized) women, at the hands of our government. Click on the links below to learn more.

Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States
“Coerced sterilization is a shameful part of America’s history…Used as a means of controlling ‘undesirable’ populations–immigrants, people of color, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill–federally-funded sterilization programs took place in 32 states throughout the 20th century. Driven by prejudiced notions of science and social control, these programs informed policies on immigration and segregation.”

The Dark History of Forced Sterilization of Latina Women
“Between the 1930s and the 1970s, approximately one-third of the female population of Puerto Rico was sterilized.”

A 1970 Law Led to the Mass Sterilization of Native American Women. That History Still Matters
“Over the six-year period that had followed the passage of the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, physicians sterilized perhaps 25% of Native American women of childbearing age, and there is evidence suggesting that the numbers were actually even higher.”

‘Amá’ and the Legacy of Sterilization in Indian Country
“The long-term effects of the sterilization practices at the Indian Health Service are devastating to our communities. Women were ashamed when the power to give life was stripped from them. Women are considered sacred in Native cultures; they are the life givers. Many women drank themselves to death when they learned that IHS had sterilized them.”

Sterilized in the Name of Public Health: Race, Immigration, and Reproductive Control in Modern California
“This historical overview raises important questions about the legacy of eugenics in contemporary California and relates the past to recent developments in health care delivery and genetic screening.”

California Once Targeted Latinas for Forced Sterilization
“The eugenics era also echoes in the broader cultural and political landscape of the U.S. today. Latina women’s reproduction is repeatedly portrayed as a threat to the nation. Latina immigrants in particular are seen as hyperfertile. Their children are sometimes called “anchor babies” and described as a burden on the nation.”

And just in case you think this is all in the past:
The U.S. Is Still Forcibly Sterilizing Prisoners

1 thought on “The Racist History of Forced Sterilization in the US”

  1. Thank you for gathering these stories and sharing. It’s horrifying to read about what is still happening, what we are still doing to people because we see them as “other.”

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