National Partnership for Women & Families

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Study calls for reparations for survivors of Calif. forced sterilization effort

Hundreds of California residents who were forcibly sterilized by the state during the last century could still be alive and should receive financial reparations, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, Reuters reports.

Calif. sterilization program

The study explained that between 1909 and 1979, California had in place a law that allowed the state to sterilize individuals who were committed to homes or hospitals and who were determined to have a "mental disease which may have been inherited" that was "likely to be transmitted to descendants." According to the study, the law established the legal framework for the country's most active forcible sterilization program.

For the study, researchers examined records for approximately 20,000 sterilization recommendations issued between 1919 and 1952. The figure represents about one-third of forced sterilizations performed in the United States. The researchers did not determine how many of those recommended to be sterilized actually underwent the procedure.

The University of Michigan's Alexandra Minna Stern, who lead the study, said many of the California recommendations were for children, the youngest of whom was 7 years old. The study estimates that as many as 831 individuals who were sterilized by California could still be alive. Their average age would be about 88, according to the study.

Study calls for reparations

Stern called for California, like other states that have forcibly sterilized residents, to offer financial compensation to survivors. According to the study, North Carolina and Virginia have offered $20,000 and $25,000, respectively, to each identified sterilization survivor.

Stern said while California "could never completely right this wrong," it was "a dramatic and significant episod[e] in the state's history that shouldn't be forgotten." She added, "Each of these 20,000 people was their own individual, with their own life story, loves, passions."

Separately, Paul Lombardo, a law professor at Georgia State University who has written extensively about compulsory sterilization, praised the study for details that could help locate individuals who could be eligible for reparations. Lombardo noted that in 2003, when California's then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) publicly apologized for the forced sterilizations, the state could locate only one person affected by the policy.

Lombardo also said that survivors should receive financial reparations. "In the name of doing something that is simply about justice," he said, "it seems to me the states can afford this" (Cohen, Reuters, 12/6).