LA County Board of Supervisors Apologizes for Sterilizations of Women

"It's a very ugly chapter in the state's history," Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said.

What to Know

  • The LA County Board of Supervisors formally apologized to hundreds of women who were sterilized under state law in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • California's aggressive eugenics practices in the 20th century included involuntary sterilizations of hundreds of women after childbirth.

The Board of Supervisors apologized Wednesday to more than 200 woman coerced into sterilization after delivering babies at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center between 1968 and 1974 and urged support of a bill that would pay reparations.

"For hundreds of years, women have been victimized by patriarchal and racist health care policies," Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. "The women affected by this practice led the rest of their lives deprived of full reproductive freedom, an incalculable loss to themselves and their families."

Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis urged their colleagues to back SB 1190, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which proposes compensation for victims of any involuntary sterilization under California's eugenics law, which was in effect from 1909 to 1979.

Federally-funded sterilization programs operated in 32 states during the 20th century. California had the most active programs, sterilizing more than 20,000 people living in state homes or psychiatric hospitals under the law that deemed some people "unfit" to have children because of their "defective traits."

Racial minorities, poor people and those with disabilities were more likely to be labeled as "mentally deficient" or "feeble-minded" under the law.

"It's a very ugly chapter in the state's history," Kuehl said.

Then-Gov. Gray Davis and the state Senate formally apologized for the practice in 2003.

The women who were sterilized after giving birth at County-USC provided written or oral consent, but Kuehl and Solis said language and cultural barriers raised questions about whether their consent was truly informed.

Some women didn't understand the choice they'd made, not realizing until future doctor's visits that they'd undergone a tubal ligation and could no longer bear children, according to the supervisors.

Solis called the sterilizations a "black eye on the county and on the state" and added that most of the women and girls affected were Latina.

"The tremendous physical and emotional harm to these women, their families and our communities cannot be undone," Solis said. "But we owe them our heartfelt apologies and a visual memorial, a plaque at LAC+USC Medical Center, that will remind current and future generations of this past injustice so that this tragedy will never occur again."

The board voted to send a letter to state representatives in support of SB 1190, which passed the Senate in May and is set to be heard by the Assembly's Appropriations Committee tomorrow.

One estimate in an Appropriations Committee analysis said there may be about 630 eligible victims surviving statewide and roughly one-quarter may come forward to seek compensation.

No specific amount of compensation has been set, but a target of $25,000 per victim is under discussion, according to a spokesman for Skinner.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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