North Carolina Apologizes for Past Sterilizations. What about the Present?

In the earliest decades of the 20th century, progressives in America were captivated by eugenics, a scientific approach to human reproduction aimed at using sterilization and other methods to weed out the mentally incompetent, the economically challenged, and the racially inferior -- inferior according to those who were making the rules at the time.  And although this is something we like to think of as happening then rather than now, a task force's new findings have uncovered North Carolinians who were sterilized as recently as 1974.

Consider Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, who saw eugenics as a means to rid us of the poor, as well as to limit the births of black children.  As she wrote in 1932, Sanger favored a "stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring."

Sanger had been greatly impacted by the 19th century's Thomas Malthus, who was consumed with stopping what he saw as an imperiling overpopulation problem in the world, and who advocated the death of entire categories of persons to avoid it:

All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons. We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality.

Now, lucid observers know that Sanger's dream is still alive and well via Planned Parenthood's 330,000 annual abortions, and many would see Malthus' desires fulfilled in utilitarian approaches to population control like those in China's one-child policy.  However, it's a safe bet that amid these travesties on humanity, few have stopped to think of the raw offense and rabid injustice forced sterilizations have inflicted on U.S. citizens, particularly citizens in a "conservative" state like North Carolina.

In fact, so great were the number of sterilizations in that state, and over such an extended period of time, that within the last few weeks, "North Carolina's Eugenics Compensation Task Force recommended the state pay $50,000 to ... each living victim of the state's forced sterilization program."  The proposal appears to have bipartisan support, and the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives anticipates action in May.

Just think of how recently, relatively speaking, these sterilizations were taking place -- 1974.  That was the first year of Gerald Ford's presidency, and just one year after the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.  This also means that it was taking place in the midst of the Vietnam War.  So while this nation was being torn asunder culturally, people were being forcibly sterilized in NC -- and most of them were children.

But is it really just a sad chapter of North Carolina's past? 

More taxpayer funds continue to be spent on sterilizations in North Carolina than in any other state in the union.  As of 2006, the most recent year for which information is available, $11,464,000 (see table 3.8) was spent on taxpayer-funded sterilizations in North Carolina.  In fact, more than one in ten of all taxpayer-funded sterilizations occurred in the Tar Heel State.

The forced sterilization program might have ended in 1974, but does its legacy still linger?  How does one easily explain the disproportionately large number of taxpayer-funded sterilizations in North Carolina compared to larger states or its neighbors?  Don't North Carolina (and federal) taxpayers deserve to know whether the unfortunate policies of the past still linger on in attitudes and practices in the state's current family planning programs?

Reparations for these victims are a positive step.  But taxpayers and legislators should also demand an audit of North Carolina's family planning programs to ensure that these are truly behind them and determine why North Carolina citizens continue to be sterilized with taxpayer dollars at such an alarming rate.    

Congratulations to the members of the North Carolina task force for recognizing the inhumanity to which the government subjected these 2,000 victims in years gone by.  Yet they are owed not just reparations for the past, but also a guarantee that the vestiges of their suffering will not be carried into the future.

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