We talked about the Nazi laws of forced sterilization of anyone with hereditary diseases or those who were considered “feeble-minded”. It was a complete violation of human rights- although the Nazis were not famous for instilling human rights in the first place. However this extreme practice was not limited to the Third Reich. America has a sordid history of forced or coerced sterilization for more or less the same reasons. In fact, one of the most famous supreme court cases regarding forced sterilization of the mentally disabled came before the Nazis ever took power. In Buck v. Bell in 1927, the US Supreme Court upheld forced sterilization of the mentally disabled. It was a major win for the eugenics movement. In fact, Justice Holmes stated that it was for “the protection and health of the state”. Sound familiar?
The case of Buck v. Bell included a 17-year-old girl who gave birth to an illegitimate child after being raped by a family member. The girl was sterilized in Virginia, which categorized her as “feeble-minded” citing sexual promiscuity as one of the determining factors. This is extremely similar to Nazi morals. This ruling led to thousands of sterilizations across America. In fact, during the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi lawyers cited Buck v. Bell in their defense. In my opinion, if a Nazi is using your actions as a defense, you did something terribly, terribly, wrong.
Unfortunately, sterilizations in America did not stop in the early decades. Mass forced sterilizations were commonplace up through the 1970’s especially in Black women who had what doctors deemed “too many” children. Many of these sterilizations were done without the woman’s knowledge. The institutionalized racism continued to result in loss of human rights. In California, coerced sterilization of prison inmates became a huge problem, with those having a Hispanic sounding name to be three times more likely to have a sterilization.
The eugenics movement was not confined to the crazy Nazis. Not very long ago, our country engaged in the same practices. While there are significantly more crackdowns now on doctors who try to coerce a woman to be sterilization, reproductive care still posses mass health disparities among marginalized groups. Institutionalized racism still exists.