ONTD Political

North Carolina Sterilization Victims to get $50,000

1:57 pm - 01/11/2012
As many as 2,000 people forcibly sterilized decades ago in North Carolina should get $50,000 each, a task force said Tuesday, marking the first time a state has moved to compensate victims of eugenics programs that weeded out the "feeble-minded" and others deemed undesirable.

The payout, which could amount to as much as $100 million, still needs approval from the Legislature. But the prospects for passage of some sort of compensation are promising, since the governor immediately embraced the recommendation, and the House speaker has come out in favor of payments.

While dozens of states had programs in the 20th century that allowed people to be sterilized against their will in the name of improving the human race, none of the others has offered anything more than apologies.

Compensation "sends a clear message that we in North Carolina are people who pay for our mistakes and that we do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights," said panel chairwoman Dr. Laura Gerald, a pediatrician.

From 1929 to 1974, more than 7,600 people in North Carolina were surgically rendered unable to reproduce under state laws and practices that singled out epileptics and others considered mentally defective. Many were poor, black women deemed unfit to be parents.

A task force report last year said 1,500 to 2,000 of the victims were still alive, though the state has verified only 72 so far.

Last year, Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue created the five-person task force to decide how to compensate victims. It consisted of a judge, a doctor, a former journalist, a historian and a lawyer.

The panel had discussed amounts between $20,000 and $50,000, and some victims and family members had bitterly complained that was too little. The panel also weighed whether to compensate victims' family members or descendants - some people were sterilized after giving birth - but decided against it.

On Tuesday, some victims said they were just looking forward to seeing the issue resolved.

Elaine Riddick, 57, was sterilized at 14 after she gave birth to a son who was the product of a rape.

"I was a victim twice: once by the rapist and one by the state of North Carolina. Normally, if you commit a crime, you pay for it. They committed the biggest crime. They committed a crime against God. They committed a crime against humanity," she said, wiping tears from her face. "And this is all I can do is just accept what they said today and go on with my life."

While taking away someone's ability to have children sounds barbaric today, eugenics programs gained popularity in the U.S. and other countries in the early 1900s, promoted as a means of raising the health and intellectual level of the human race.

More than 30 states enacted laws allowing surgical sterilization for certain people, though not all of them carried out such procedures. More than 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized under such programs, and some historians think the same thing was done to thousands more in other states under the authority of doctors or local officials.

Most states abandoned those efforts after World War II when such practices became closely associated with Nazi Germany's attempts to achieve racial purity, though North Carolina stood out because it actually ramped up its program after the war. Sterilizations in North Carolina peaked in the 1950s, according to state records.

People as young as 10 were sterilized, in some cases for not getting along with schoolmates or for being promiscuous. Although officials obtained consent from patients or their guardians, many did not comprehend what they were signing.

North Carolina is among about a half-dozen states to apologize.

Melissa Hyatt, whose stepfather was sterilized, said the task force "did what was reasonable as far as budgets and economy."

"It's not really about the money," she said. "It's about the suffering and the pain."

Mike Marion, whose 59-year-old aunt was sterilized at 18 because she was seen as mildly disabled mentally, said estates or descendants should get some compensation, too.

"If you're going to admit wrong, admit wrong in its whole capacity," he said. "By offering compensation to only the living, that's taking partial responsibility."

Despite the potentially high price tag in this economy, there is bipartisan support for some compensation. The governor issued a statement endorsing the task force recommendation.

GOP House Speaker Thom Tillis said he will review it. But he said previously that he wants the Legislature to vote this year on a compensation plan.

Republican Sen. Richard Stevens, one of the Senate's chief budget-writers, said $50,000 per person "seems like a small amount to pay for what they had to endure, but $100 million is a large sum for the state of North Carolina."

"Somewhere in there there's got to be fairness to the individuals but mindful of the realities of the state's budget," he said.

Gerald urged passage: "Any state or group of people can make a mistake, but it takes courage and strength of character to acknowledge wrongs and try to right them."


According to a news report I heard, this is expected to pass. Good on my new home state for trying to make amends.
alierakieron 11th-Jan-2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
I'm glad this is getting some attention.
I'd be even happier if this weren't treated as an artifact of history.
pandaseal 11th-Jan-2012 08:18 pm (UTC)
I'd be even happier if this weren't treated as an artifact of history.

Indeed. The American eugenics movement still ties into so much shit that going on today, even if we ignore the people being coerced into sterilization.
alierakieron 11th-Jan-2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
Meloukhia has written some really powerful stuff too on the way that eugenicist arguments are still used, albeit subtly (and sometimes not subtly) by progressive movements.
fishphile 11th-Jan-2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
YESSSS. I try to keep an eye on how abortion is talked about from both anti and pro-choice people.

I think for many white women, particularly wealthy and upper middle class women with no disabilities (I may be wrong here so feel free to tell me so), they are urged to not abort, but the emphasis is not quite the same for poor women, women with disabilities and WoC. While there is a movement to restrict abortion for them, which oddly comes off as a "punishment" for having sex, the fight to give birth is sometimes equally hard for these women.
alierakieron 11th-Jan-2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: a lot of people want nothing to do with reproductive freedom, they just want to guarantee access to birth control and abortion.
These two things are :critical aspects: of reproductive freedom, yes, but they're not the whole damn package.
fishphile 11th-Jan-2012 09:02 pm (UTC)
Yep. There is far less assholishness on the pro-choice side, but every once in awhile I see some language that's a bit gross in nature.
kaowolfie 11th-Jan-2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
Yes yes yes yes yes yes! Access to all forms of contraception is vital, but access to appropriate medical care and social supports so you can have wanted kids is vital too. I am at the point where I want nothing to do with your average white middle class+ non-disabled woman who is 'pro-choice', because she is against my husband and I having children because we are both disabled and he's NDN.

They talk about it in both subtle and non-subtle ways, and it's so infuriating. Access to abortion good, access to food stamps/WIC/subsidized daycare/etc. bad, access to appropriate medical care that supports your choices bad... so long as that choice is to have a kid when you ain't "perfect". Fuck that shit. :(
fishphile 11th-Jan-2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
They talk about it in both subtle and non-subtle ways, and it's so infuriating. Access to abortion good, access to food stamps/WIC/subsidized daycare/etc. bad, access to appropriate medical care that supports your choices bad... so long as that choice is to have a kid when you ain't "perfect". Fuck that shit. :(

Yes, this is what I meant, but you've said it better.
kaowolfie 11th-Jan-2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
oh, thanks - I was afraid it was a little incoherent. :x I feel, ah, rather strongly about this.
angelofdeath275 11th-Jan-2012 10:04 pm (UTC)
You weren't incoherent, I understood you perfectly.
fishphile 11th-Jan-2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
I agree with angelofdeath. Your words were very clear.
alierakieron 12th-Jan-2012 01:37 am (UTC)
YUP. And all the subtle digs about "people who shouldn't be having children". And... guh. I can't even get started.
valkeakuulas 11th-Jan-2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
Reminds me of a certain user in this comm too, who believes disabled kids should be aborted out because they are a drain on society and therefore worthless as members of the society.. owlsarentarseholes or something. Wouldn't be surprised if they're also for eugenics.
gloraelin 11th-Jan-2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
owlsarentaholes. AKA Jessy, who thinks that adoption is the worst thing that can ever happen to a kid. She got a rename some months ago.
___closetome 12th-Jan-2012 01:02 am (UTC)
oh god I remember her. /adopted
alierakieron 12th-Jan-2012 01:38 am (UTC)
Heh,that IS eugenics.
valkeakuulas 12th-Jan-2012 09:02 am (UTC)
I thought of a narrower definition, but it all does tie together. By removing the unfit part of society because they don't "contribute" also makes sure they don't breed. Gross.

There's actually a really good movie about forced sterilizations in Sweden, it's unsettling but impressive, though it may be difficult to find with English subs. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0796236/

edited to correct the link

Edited at 2012-01-12 09:02 am (UTC)
dreammeanyway 11th-Jan-2012 09:00 pm (UTC)
Do you have a link to that?
fishphile 11th-Jan-2012 08:35 pm (UTC)
Truth. I've been talking to one of my coworkers, who is originally from N.C., and we were talking about how these particular cases are quite recent.
alierakieron 11th-Jan-2012 08:38 pm (UTC)
Is that woman still giving away money to "junkies" if they'll agree to get sterilized? I remember the story but none of the details.
fishphile 11th-Jan-2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
Okay, I remember reading this, but your comment made me look this up. It looks like it was happening either in the U.S. and/or U.K. in 2011 so I'm afraid it's still happening. Project Prevention seems to be the leader of this whole shit.
13chapters 11th-Jan-2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
so true. the czech republic was forcibly sterilizing romani women as recently as 2001. D:
(no subject) - Anonymous
kaowolfie 11th-Jan-2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
There was an article in the New York Times about this that asked EXACTLY that question, and included what some of the people victimized by this thought.
kalliope_us 11th-Jan-2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
This makes me proud to live in North Carolina, particularly since the Speaker is a Republican who is causing a lot of problems (from my point of view)otherwise.
zeitgeistic 12th-Jan-2012 06:08 am (UTC)
I wish I could be surprised at how ridiculous reproductive rights issues are in this country.

It turns my stomach that the government would forcefully take the ability to reproduce away from those people, who might have actually wanted to have and raise children, and yet I can't get tubal ligation without having 2 or 3 kids first...or at least permission from my non-existent husband.

Edited at 2012-01-12 06:11 am (UTC)
dearmisterecho 12th-Jan-2012 01:10 pm (UTC)
Good to see something good coming out of my state!
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