The History of Forced Sterilization in the United States


 When we think of the term “genocide,” we think of Hitler and his eugenics campaign, but the part that is not taught in schools is that Hitler was inspired by none other than the compulsory sterilization techniques of the United States. 

The eugenics movement in the United States began in the 1800s and continued through the 20th century, including federal funding in over 30 states. 

This movement disproportionately targeted minorities and people with disabilities by overly diagnosing people as “feebleminded,” using this excuse as a reason to sterilize someone against their will. They held a belief that  “feebleminded” people would birth children dependent on government assistance, which was enough to get civilians to agree to the practice. 

This was protected by a Supreme Court decision in 1927, Buck vs. Bell, where the Supreme Court determined that it was legally appropriate to sterilize inmates and people who lived in institutions, no matter why they were there. Only one Justice dissented.

It was so common among Black women in the 1960s that many referred to it as a “Mississippi appendectomy.” Many of these women received permanent sterilizations by medical students as practice, not even by licensed doctors. 

A case in 1942, Skinner vs. Oklahoma, was ruled by the Supreme Court to determine the right to procreate was covered as a human right. 

In 2020, news broke of forced sterilizations of immigrant women who were detained at the United States southern border, and millions were rightly horrified. But a study from California revealed that even though the California eugenics laws were repealed in 1979, permanent sterilization without the consent of the patient was occurring on United States citizens even as recently as 2013, and the doctors received money from the states for participating in the procedure. California is now forced to pay restitution up to $25,000 per victim as of 2021. 

At the time of this writing in August of 2022, Buck vs Bell has not been overturned. 


Invisible Visits: Black Middle-Class Women in the American Healthcare System

Walk With Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer

Better For All The World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity


Fannie Lou Hamer’s America


Article: A New Museum Honors “The Mothers of Gynecology”

Science Direct: Compulsory Sterilization America’s Forgotten History of Forced Sterilization

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center: Past and Current United States Policies of Forced Sterilization Tracing the History of Forced Sterilization within the United States

The Indigenous Foundation: A Brief History on the Forced Sterilization of Indigenous Peoples in the US