Recent legislation regarding the forced sterilizations performed on incarcerated women in California prisons evokes a muted time in U.S. history when sexist, racist, classist and ableist eugenics policies were orchestrated by the state.
But while the scandal evokes skeletons of days past, the problem is far from dead and buried. Today, state oversight is the perpetrator, as the 39 female inmates who were sterilized from 2005 to 2013 without meeting state requirements for consent exemplify. Despite these nuances, however, forced sterilization looks a lot like it did under the United States’ early Supreme Court-backed eugenic laws: brushed off and racialized.
Such an infuriating issue should attract the ire of the feminist community, but so far there are mostly crickets. This unresponsiveness echoes the attention women’s rights and reproductive justice groups have historically given to forced sterilization, a procedure that overwhelmingly plagues women of color and, in California, has disproportionately affected prisoners of color.
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