Shaping Population Through Forced Female Sterilization

“I never knew what they’d done to me.”
— Carrie Buck

iStockphoto.com
Berkeley.edu

We want control of our bodies

Forced sterilization is an act of genocide. The United States has a history of forcing, coercing, and surreptitiously sterilizing women of color for the purpose of reducing the birth rates of certain peoples. There is proof that forced sterilization is an ongoing offense being committed against people of color in the United States today.

It’s not enough to want genocide to not happen again. It’s not even enough to outlaw genocide. We already have that. You can’t just go around killing with the intent of exterminating an entire group of people — yet our government has done so with minimal intervention against it.

The United States still commits genocidal action under the pretense of law and order.

Evil ideas: Brainstorming a passive genocide for the ages

theconversation.com

Women can be sterilized either through laparoscopy or minilaparotomy. Men can be sterilized by vasectomy.

There have been three waves of forced sterilization in the modern era.

  • The First Wave took root in the progressive era (1897–1920) and occurred from 1907–1963
  • The Second Wave was the late 1960s-1970s under the banner of the Family Planning Act
  • The Third Wave is happening today
ihpi.umich.edu

Forced sterilization in the modern world didn’t begin in North Korea, Germany, or China — but in the United States with Gordon Lincecum, who proposed a bill in 1849 that would make it legal to sterilize the mentally handicapped and those with other “undesirable” traits.

The movement to sterilize women came out of the eugenics movement, which was started by Francis Galton. Galton was a British polymath, physiologist, world traveler, and advocator of scientific racism who lived during the Victorian era. He was knighted by King Edward in 1909.

Eugenics enjoyed a wide appeal in the second half of the 19th century and flourished through the first third of the 20th. This disturbing ideology for controlling the lives of others is not to be dismissed or taken lightly.

Many prominent revered figures were eugenicists. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, and Oliver Wendell Holmes all endorsed it.

The momentum of the eugenics movement was smashed following Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942), and is no longer touted in the open, but it continues to influence the “authorities” conduct with prisoners.

The difference between a prisoner and a detainee is that a prisoner gets a trial and is incarcerated for a time decided by a judge. In contrast, a detainee does not know for sure what will happen to them.

The “father of modern gynecology” — do you like that? — J. Marion Sims conducted heinous experiments on female slaves without using anesthesia. His work was championed for decades until he finally fell out of favor in the mid 20th century when physicians condemned Sims’ brutal tactics and targeting of “vulnerable members” of the population.

A group of people controlling other groups of people is not new.

There has always been a special predilection for controlling women’s bodies. One acute detail of this history is that rape used to be regarded as property theft against the victim’s husband or father.

Consider three forms of control:

  • Wealth and social control
  • The notion of racial superiority
  • Ownership of bodies

Evil actions against “the shiftless, worthless, and ignorant class”

In 1907 Indiana passed a law legalizing the forced sterilization of “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles, and rapists.”

The first forced female sterilization on record came in October of 1927, following the Supreme Court ruling of Buck v. Bell.

Carrie Buck was born to Emma and Frederick Buck, a poor family living in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Buck’s separated when Carrie was very young. Emma Buck and her children Carrie, Doris, and Roy (Carrie’s half-siblings) lived in poverty. To their economically advanced white neighbors, Emma Buck and her children were the poor class of “loose morals.”

Virginia at that time had a eugenics program that made it legal to lock up citizens who had been deemed “feebleminded” by the state.

PBS

The potentiate of prison time in threes

By state recognition, in the 1920s, “three generations of imbecility” was considered reason enough to end the progeny of a line so that a fourth-generation did not come into existence.

After the break up of her marriage, Emma Buck was accused of having contracted syphilis from prostituting herself and locked up at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded, outside of Lynchburg.

Carrie was given over to foster parents John and Alice Dobbs.

In 1923 Carrie was raped at home by Alice Dobbs’ nephew while the Dobbs’s were out.

A year later, she gave birth to a daughter and named her Vivian.

After giving birth to Vivian, Carrie Buck was accused of feeblemindedness, “incorrigible behavior,” and promiscuity.

The Dobbs’ had Carrie committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, where she joined her mother.

Freedom designed to fail

Harry Laughlin was a one-time principal of a high school in Canterville, Iowa, who later devoted his life to the study of eugenics.

His work on “racial purity” earned him congressional recognition as an expert on “biological aspects of immigration.” To Laughlin, Carrie Buck was from the class of “shiftless, worthless, and ignorant class, of anti-social whites of the south.”

Laughlin created the Virginia Sterilization Act model, signed into law on March 20, 1924, which led to Carrie Buck’s sterilization three years later.

Thousands of people were forcibly sterilized following the Virginia Sterilization Act. Compulsory sterilization was embraced by 30 states, and the sterilization of 64,000–70,000 people followed.

Aubrey Strode was the attorney who wrote Virginia’s sterilization law. In a tragic aside ironic to his case, Strode’s parents died in mental institutions. Strode worked with Irving Whitehead, another attorney who had appointed the doctor who ordered Carrie to be sterilized.

Whitehead oversaw the sterilization of 24 women and was the appointed attorney in Carrie Buck’s defense!

Carrie Buck’s case was designed to fail.

Harry Laughlin presented the court with a pedigree chart that “proved” beyond a reasonable doubt that Carrie Buck was feebleminded and therefore unfit to have children.

facinghistory.org

Another noteworthy ineptitude of the prosecution is that Mr. Laughlin never met Carrie Buck.

Imbeciles, Idiots, and Morons

In the nomenclature of the day, idiots performed the worst. Their mental capacity could never exceed that of an average child of two years old. Imbeciles did not exceed the thinking capacity of a child of seven. Morons could reach but not exceed the abilities of a child of twelve.

The only testimony to prove the imbecility of Vivian Buck came from a Red Cross worker named Caroline Wilhelm. Wilhelm’s statement to the court compared Alice Dobbs’ grandchild with Vivian Buck before either baby had learned to walk.

It is difficult to judge probabilities of a child as young as that, but it seems to me not quite a normal baby. In its appearance — I should say that perhaps my knowledge of the mother may prejudice me in that regard, but I saw the child at the same time as Mrs. Dobbs’ daughter’s baby, which is only three days older than this one, and there is a very decided difference in the development of the babies. That was about two weeks ago. There is a look about it that is not quite normal, but just what it is, I can’t tell.

Miss Wilhelm’s statement comprised the prosecution’s evidence behind the claim that Vivian Buck was the third generation of imbeciles in the Buck family line through Carrie’s mother, Emma.

Under the defense’s cross-examination, Miss Wilhelm revealed that neither baby was old enough to walk.

“Mrs. Dobbs’ daughter’s baby is very responsive. When you play with it or try to attract its attention — it is a baby that you can play with. The other baby is not. It seems very apathetic and not responsive.”

“Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

The supreme court agreed with Laughlin’s ideas, and the prosecution led by Irving Whitehead. At the end of the trial, Oliver Wendell Holmes gave his decision, closing it with his now famous line.

Oliver Wendell Holmes · virginia.edu

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices. . . . It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

Of the 64,000–70,000 forced sterilizations in the United States between 1907 and 1963, 20,000 occurred in California. The overwhelming majority of these sterilizations were of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color.

Vivian Buck died from an intestinal infection resulting from a complication of measles in 1932, aged eight. She had been an average student in school and made the honor roll at least once.

Following Carrie Buck, 4,000 women were forcibly sterilized in the same Lynchburg hospital. Forced sterilizations continued to be ordered by the hospital until partway through 1972.

Carrie Buck was released shortly after being sterilized and lived in Charlottesville working odd jobs. People who knew her regarded her as being of average intelligence. She married twice.

In 1980 Carrie Buck was informed by the then-current director of the Lynchburg Mental Institution that she had been forcibly sterilized in 1927.

She and her husband had desperately wanted children.

“I broke down and cried. My husband and me wanted children desperately. We were crazy about them. I never knew what they’d done to me.”

Carrie Buck died in 1983 and was buried next to her daughter.

The case to sterilize Carrie Buck was a matter of perceived sexual immorality and social deviancy. She was a rape victim who was sent away because her foster family was ashamed of her, and by committing her, they protected the identity of her rapist.

Buck v. Bell has never been overturned.

“Hero of eugenics, enemy of the world.”

Harry Laughlin · Google

Harry Laughlin spent his career in eugenics, trying to eliminate “the most worthless 1/10 of our present population.”

Laughlin proposed the “Model Sterilization Law” in 1922 designed to prevent “socially inadequate” persons from procreating.

Laughlin inspired Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s eugenics research and practice.

“There is today one state,” Adolf Hitler wrote, “in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of citizenship] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

Hitler was exceedingly fond of eugenics. The first law he instituted after becoming chancellor of the Third Reich in 1933, was to mandate compulsory sterilization. This German law was modeled on the eugenic sterilization laws created in the United States (26).

In 1936, the University of Heidelberg awarded Laughlin an honorary doctorate for his work in the science of “race hygiene.”

We may be able to look past the achievements of Harry Laughlin today. While Laughlin’s not well known any more and his ideas are discredited, it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of his influence.

Forced sterilization laws have been repealed, or overturned in most of the 30 states that they had formally been instituted in. Still, groups of people continue to be targeted and sterilized through coercion and deception. Forced sterilization is still legal in the United States.

Forced Sterilization After World War II

dartmouth.edu

The United States & Puerto Rico: Bigotry + gossip → genocide

Puerto Rico became an occupied territory of the United States on July 25, 1898.

In 1900, a view propagated in the United States that Puerto Rico had a fertility problem. Too many people were being born.

US colonialization of the island was a major proponent of the sterilization taken against it. By 1925, 70% of Puerto Ricans were landless, while a mere 2% of the population owned 80% of it.

Eugenicists regarded Puerto Ricans as “hyper-fertile” and incapable of helping themselves out of their “overpopulation” problems. There was talk among eugenicists that Puerto Ricans were not intelligent enough to use contraception.

Birth control legislation was introduced in 1937 under Law 116.

Another way of looking at this genocidal intent is that the money-making potential of exploiting Puerto Rico and its inhabitants was also a problem because the United States felt that it needed to make changes in Puerto Rico to make it enticing investors. So, 160 private birth control clinics opened on a “temporary” basis to sterilize the population.

Protecting the neighbors

A study of the sterilization practices in Puerto Rico covering 1947–1948 revealed 7% of Puerto Rican women had been sterilized. A study covered 1953–1954 showed that the figure had jumped to 16% of the female population. A survey conducted in 1965 revealed that 1/3 of Puerto Rican women between 20 and 49 had been sterilized.

A 2016 study uncovered that 40.8% of Puerto Rican women were sterilized.

Puerto Rico was impoverished after World War II. With all those unemployed landless people struggling to feed themselves, why let Puerto Ricans continue their current rate of procreation when the nation was going through so much difficulty feeding, employing, and housing its population?

“That ain’t genocide; it’s population control.”

Black, Indigenous, and other people of color now this has been happening for centuries, we just haven’t had the chance to tell the story.
— Angela Tucker, producer of Belly of the Beast

dartmouth.edu

The spearheading force in the sterilization movement of Puerto Rican women was Clarence Gamble, heir to the Proctor and Gamble fortune. A Harvard-educated doctor, Gamble spent much of his career searching for the “perfect” form of contraception. In 1939, he began flying Puerto Rican doctors to New York to train them in sterilization techniques. In 1957 he founded Pathfinder Fund (now known as Pathfinder — whose website states that they cannot lead “transformational social change” without recognizing their founder’s “undeniable involvement” in eugenics), which sought to supply contraception to “minorities” around the world. By “minorities”, Gamble meant people outside of the United States living in their birth countries.

The United States supported Gamble’s targeting Puerto Rican women and sent its own healthcare workers to door to door across the island to perform the sterilizations.

dartmouth.edu

By 1968 Puerto Rican women had the highest sterilization rate in the world. Gamble’s efforts to sterilize them had been in place for thirty years.

Sterilization wasn’t Gamble’s only contribution to eugenics in Puerto Rico. Gamble brought his oral contraception there as well since it could not legally be tested in the United States. Gamble distributed progesterone to Puerto Ricans. The drug produced nausea and headaches in those who took it. It would go on — in significantly reduced dosages — to be known as the pill, a significant component of modern contraception.

By 1976 Puerto Rico had the highest rate of sterilized childbearing age women in the world.

Through Clarence Gamble’s trailblazing malfeasance, the United States committed genocide against Puerto Ricans throughout the second half of the 20th Century.

The five ways to commit genocide

There are five ways to commit genocide. Population control in this instance draws the b. and d. components of the quintette.

a. Killing members of the group;
b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Usually, the patient had not been adequately informed about the process and did not know its permanent effect. In some cases, consent was given under pressure. For instance, a woman in labor shows up at a San Juan hospital, only to determine that she must undergo a sterilization procedure to have her baby at the hospital.

Sterilization of Indigenous women

Lorie Shaull

At the beginning of the 1970s, 25% of Indigenous women between 15 and 44 had been sterilized. Between 1970 and 1976, Indian Health Services (IHS) sterilized between 25 and 50% of Indigenous American women.

Indigenous women were also the target of the racist attitude that they were not responsible or intelligent enough to protect themselves through contraception.

This turns out to be wrong not only in the untenable view that one race is inherently inferior to another but also because Indigenous women had a long-standing tradition of taking Mexican wild yam in their diets when they wanted to prevent births. The essential ingredient in birth control pills is diosgenin, which is extracted from the Mexican wild yam, now available in over-the-counter supplements as an estrogen therapy alternative, memory booster, and anti-cancer tonic, among other things.

While Roe v. Wade led to for increased bodily autonomy for white women, the ruling did not benefit Indigenous women. The US forcibly sterilized 25,000 Indigenous women in the 1970s.

Contemporary genocide in the US

latimes.com

That isn’t a huge amount of money.”

The quote comes from Dr. James Heinrich, who worked as a medical practitioner in California state women’s prisons partway through 2012, after closing his private practice in 2005. It’s in reference to the amount of state money footed to prison doctors in California doctors to pay for tubal ligations.

He made at least 100 unauthorized sterilizations of female inmates during his tenure at Valley State Prison. He’s also responsible for arranging 378 other forms of sterilization to women — hysterectomies, ovary removal, and endometrial ablation — a procedure to remove or destroy the endometrial lining of a uterus. Dr. Heinrich came into the California prison system with a history of malpractice suits. Inside Valley State Prison, he developed a reputation for pressuring female prisoners to get sterilized.

Even though since 1994 it’s been California law to have approval from top officials in Sacramento to issue sterilizations to inmates, doctors stationed at these two prisons continued to give tubal ligations as if it were standard legal practice to do so until partway through 2010.

Taking Dr. James Heinrich’s quote “that isn’t a huge lot of money” steers one further away from common sense than one might think it would take them.

Heinrich was comparing the $147,460 paid for tubal ligations against the amount of money the state of California would save paying out welfare to families of color for the “unwanted” babies mothers would have. Heinrich was in the habit of giving out tubal ligations as a favor to imprisoned women.

Tennessee

In 2017 Judge Sam Benningfield of Tennessee offered to shorten inmates’ (of any sex) sentences by 30 days if they agreed to be sterilized. Benningfield’s rationale was that by doing this, he was encouraging “personal responsibility” among inmates so that they would not be burdened by parenthood once released.

Canada

Indigenous women were the targets of scare tactics which led them to be sterilized against their will as recently as 2017 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Many women who received sterilization exhibited mental health issues following the procedure, such as persistent depression and anxiety.

Shelters known as resiliency lodges were built in Quebec and New Brunswick in response to the terrorism of Indigenous women in Canada. Their construction drew inspiration from the efforts of the Mexican government who worked to create shelters for Indigenous women in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.

Shelters are an incomplete response to the terrorism committed against Indigenous in any country. They can’t prevent the coercion and deception from targeting women of color, nor do can they be used to prevent genocide from happening again. It’s simply a minimalist response to a fatal wound, like trying to heal a shotgun blast to the chest with a bandaid.

“We don’t care what happens to you”

politico.com

In May of 2021, President Biden ordered Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, to discontinue housing immigrant detainees.

The Irwin County Detention Center is still operating, but the alien detainees were moved out of the facility during the fall of 2021.

Before their evaluation, detainees reported their mistreatment at the hands of staff for months. Around 18 — conflicting numbers are listed in various sources — were forcibly sterilized by Dr. Mahendra Amin — dubbed “the uterus collector” by detainees — prior to Dawn Wooten’s whistleblowing of the ongoing repugnant actions of staff leveled against detainees held at the facility.

Project South reported multiple female detainees had complained of unnecessary procedures done to them by Dr. Amin.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that in April of 2021, new inmates were being booked into the facility while masks were not given out, and social distancing was not enforced.

Litigation was pending against Dr. Amin and was not board-certified to practice medicine when he was hired to care for patients at the Irwin County Detention Center. The detention center earns a profit from keeping people incarcerated because it’s run by a private firm called LaSalle Corrections.

For-profit prisons are keeping genocidal practices legal in the United States.

dornsife.usc.edu

Critical to our success

Forced female sterilization is an ongoing problem.

It won’t go away on its own.

As forced sterilization is discontinued at one detention center — it will begin again in another.

It doesn’t need to make the news to be happening. We know the reason it’s been implemented is big enough for our government to continue sanctioning it wherever it does happen.

It’s easier to point out the deficit in others rather than to work together. But unity the only way to get what we want. What we want is what is good for life.

Your government doesn’t work for you. You work for you. And by way of information as currency — you work for me — and I work for you.

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Matt Peterson

Matt Peterson

I write at the intersection of interest and pressing need.