History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States
Friday, June 1, 2007 10:34 AM

This year represents the century mark for the first eugenics law in the United States.  Eugenics laws allowed for the sterilization of men, women and children considered “defective,” and over thirty states had such laws.  Conservative estimates relying on state records reveal that over 63,000 people were sterilized by 1963. Eugenics laws were used disproportionately to sterilize poor and black women. Child abuse victims were also victims of sterilization.

In North Carolina, over 7,600 were sterilized, and more than sixty percent of these were African American women and girls. Fewer than 500 of these sterilizations occurred with the clear consent of the patient. For example, Elaine Riddick was raped at age thirteen and was sterilized while giving birth by cesarean section. According to Riddick, the reason given for her sterilization was because she was “feeble minded,” but her form refers to community reports of her “promiscuity.” Riddick did not know of her sterilization until a doctor informed her of it years later after she and her husband had attempted to get pregnant. 

Unlike Riddick, few victims come forward with their stories. Only five states, including North Carolina, have apologized for their eugenic laws, and the federal government has never acknowledged that such sterilization ever took place.

Compiled from: “USA – A Woman Robbed of her Fertility,” Jo Meek, BBC News, 22 May 2007.