California is poised to approve reparations up to $25,000 to victims who were among the thousands of people — some as young as 13 — who decades ago were sterilized because state officials deemed them unfit to have children.
The payments, part of the state’s new $262.6 billion operating budget that is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, will make California at least the third state after Virginia and North Carolina to pay victims of the so-called eugenics movement that peaked in the 1930s. Proponents believed sterilizing people with mental illnesses, physical disabilities and other so-called undesirable traits would improve the human race.
California’s proposal is unique because it would apply to more than just victims of the eugenics law that was repealed in 1979. The state also will pay female inmates who were coerced to get sterilized, a disgrace first exposed by the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2013.
A subsequent audit found the state sterilized 144 women between 2005 and 2013 with little or no evidence that officials counseled them or offered alternative treatment. While all of the women signed consent forms, in 39 cases state officials did not do everything that was legally required to obtain their permission.
“We must address and face our horrific history,” said Lorena Garcia Zermeño, policy and communications coordinator for the advocacy group California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. “This isn’t something that just happened in the past.”