California will pay $7.5 million to surviving victims of its forced sterilization program.
Eugenics, or the practice of sterilizing those determined by the state to be “feeble” or “undesirable,” began under a law enacted in California around the turn of the 20th century.
An estimated 20,000 residents deemed “unfit to reproduce” are believed to have been sterilized in this practice, according to Unai Montes-Irueste, a spokesman for Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, who penned the new legislation.
“Those most targeted for involuntary sterilization were people of color, people with disabilities and the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” according to a 2019 news release from Carrillo’s office.
The reparations are part of the state’s $100 billion budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week.
Much of California’s eugenics program was outlawed in 1979, but laws ending the sterilization of prisoners were not passed until 2014, Montes-Irueste told CNN.
It’s unclear exactly how many survivors remain, but hundreds of people are estimated to be eligible for the funding, including some who remain incarcerated.
California led the way in forced sterilizations
Thirty-two states had eugenics programs, but California outpaced them all.
The movement even caught the attention of members of the Nazi party, who asked California eugenicists in the 1930s for advice on how to run their own sterilization program.
“Germany used California’s program as its chief example that this was a working, successful policy,” Christina Cogdell, a cultural historian at the University of California-Davis and author of “Eugenic Design,” told CNN in 2012.
In the mid-20th century, the country’s intellectual elite such as doctors, geneticists and Supreme Court justices supported forced sterilizations.
In other states, the sterilization program would stop and start due to legal challenges, but California’s ran strong for more than half a century, Cogdell said.
“If you were deemed worthy of being sterilized by a doctor, there was no board where you could have a hearing to protest,” Cogdell said.
“The legacy of California’s eugenics laws is well-known and their repercussions continue to be felt,” Laura Jimenez, Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice said in a news release. “No amount of monetary compensation will ever remedy the wrongs committed but this bill is a step in the right direction in the state taking responsibility to remedy the violence inflicted on survivors.”
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