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Involuntary Sterilization: The Facts

The History of Involuntary Sterilization

More than 70,000 women were sterilized across 32 states throughout the 20th century

Sterilization was based on the “science” of eugenics (the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of “desirable &“heritable traits ") a term coined by Francis Galton in 1883.

Those who did not fit the “racial perfection” mold became targets of many eugenics programs (these groups included immigrants, African Americans, indigenous people, those living in poverty, and those with disabilities.)

Of these groups, black women are most likely to be involuntarily sterilized.

Laws Regarding Involuntary Sterilization

Indiana passed the United States’ first sterilization bill in 1907. Thirty-one states followed suit.

In 1907, Governor J. Frank Hanly approved the first state eugenics law making sterilization mandatory for certain individuals in state custody. Indiana authorities believed criminality and a range of mental deficits were hereditary and therefore, grounds for sterilization.

Sterilizations were halted in 1909 by Governor Thomas R. Marshall and later ruled unconstitutional by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1921.

Between 1907 and 1921 over 2,500 people were involuntarily sterilized in Indiana state custody.

In 1927 The United States Supreme Court upheld the state’s rights to sterilization procedures in Buck v. Bell.

In 1942 this decision was overturned in the Supreme Court case Skinner v. Oklahoma. However, this case never directly addressed if forced sterilization was considered punitive in nature, or if it falls under cruel and unusual punishment.

Involuntary Sterilization in Ohio

The state of Ohio was not among one of the 32 states with eugenics laws.

However, there were five attempts to pass sterilization laws in Ohio from 1915 to 1963. All five of these laws failed and eugenics laws were never written into Ohio laws.

Although no involuntary sterilization procedures were recorded in Ohio, there are unofficial reports of involuntary sterilization throughout the state.

Is involuntary sterilization still an issue?

From 2006 to 2010, over 150 women were involuntarily sterilized in California Prisons. Many of these women came forward and began the fight for their rights.

As a result of efforts made by these women, SB 1135, also known as the “Anti-Sterilization Bill” was put into effect. This bill banned unlawful and non-consensual sterilization of California prisoners.

Following this California law, Federal Public Health Law Title 42 was signed. This law regulates the use of sterilization procedures on institutionalized individuals and bans the use of federal funds for inmate sterilization.