There is a saying about history repeating itself. It does, and I will show you how it is happening right now. In America, during the golden age of eugenics (1900-1950), proponents of this mindset advocated for the involuntary sterilization of anyone thought not fit to produce the right kind of offspring. Mainly, this meant the mandatory sterilization of women.
In the United States, over 30 states passed laws permitting involuntary surgical sterilization. The result was over 63,000 people losing their reproductive rights. The National Socialist Party (NAZI) of Germany studied American sterilization legislation and then implemented its more aggressive plan. Between 1934 and 1945, the Nazis sterilized approximately 350,000 (1) people against their will.
But that’s all in the past, right? Actually, no. I recommend you Google a November 2020 Independent Lens documentary, Belly of The Beast. (2) This movie digs deep into the California prison system’s illegal and involuntary sterilization of female prisoners, a practice that ended within the last decade. In the film, California prison doctors lied when they said they sterilized approximately 140 women, stating that they wanted the operation. (3) The physicians doing the surgery went on to say they believed that both the women and society stood to benefit from their actions. And that is the kernel of the ugly truth that ties the past to the present.
The government’s logic was and is that they are unburdening women from the responsibility of caring for unwanted children. Officials also argued that these low income, mostly minority, women would live a higher quality of life with fewer children. Plus, society benefited from not having to pay welfare for their children. They said those things in the 1930s, and that’s what they said in 2013.
Still needing verification is a whistleblowers’ 2020 claim (4) that ICE has involuntarily sterilized immigrant women they are holding in detention centers. If true, this would fit the pattern of sterilizing incarcerated, mostly minority women for the sole crime of being poor.
American Genes tells the story of how I envisioned eugenics playing out in a small town in the heartland of America. In my book, the threat of involuntary sterilization is one of the tools used to stop “undesirable” people from having children. The fictional characters in American Genes, the people of Germany, and the poor women in California prisons all have one thing in common, the reality that a government violated their reproductive rights.
(1) Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States, Lutz Kaelber, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Vermont.
(2) Belly of the Beast is a production of Independent Lens and PBS, November 2020.
(4) See The Outcry over ICE and Hysterectomies Explained VOX September 18, 2020