Belly Of The Beast

comments 4
Anna Olson

     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.

(3) Also see the Center for Investigative Reporting’s: Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval Corey G. Johnson July 7, 2013

(4) See The Outcry over ICE and Hysterectomies Explained VOX September 18, 2020

The Author

My goal is to write excellent novels about impaired people who suffer from unjust treatment. I hope is that my work will inspire the disability community to move forward. Any status quo would make it easier to go back to the dark days of institutionalization and isolation.


  1. Becky Kinnaman says

    Hey Kirby!! This is very enlightening and eye opening!

    Thank you for sharing! I hope you’re doing well!!

    Stay safe and healthy!

    • Kirby says

      Hi Becky,

      Yes, I’m doing just fine. My health issues are pretty well controlled now but I still miss the insurance business.

      Thanks for your kind comments, I am always encouraged by the kind comments from people like you.

      We should try to catch up sometime. I have two grandchildren who I miss very much due to COVID. Hopefully, your children are also well.

  2. Kirby says

    Thank you, Barbara, you are very kind. I’ll do my best to keep my posts interesting.

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