Coerced sterilization is a shameful part of America’s history, and one doesn’t have to go too far back to find examples of it. Used as a means of controlling “undesirable” populations – immigrants, people of color, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill – federally-funded sterilization programs took place in 32 states throughout the 20th century. Driven by prejudiced notions of science and social control, these programs informed policies on immigration and segregation.
As historian William Deverell explains in a piece discussing the “Asexualization Acts” that led to the sterilization of more than 20,000 California men and women,“If you are sterilizing someone, you are saying, if not to them directly, ‘Your possible progeny are inassimilable, and we choose not to deal with that.’”
According to Andrea Estrada at UC Santa Barbara, forced sterilization was particularly rampant in California (the state’s eugenics program even inspired the Nazis):