September 11, 2018
Written by Shani Ealey, Communications Manager
At the Women’s Foundation of California, for nearly 40 years we have made a commitment to advance gender, racial, and economic justice. For us, this looks like investing in and training grassroots community members, leaders, and organizations who are fighting to create systemic, community level, and personal change so that Californians can live their best lives. The kind of life where they are healthy, safe, and economically secure. This month, we would like to lift up the incredible work of our grant partner California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and their recent efforts to secure justice for the survivors of state-sponsored sterilizations.
Between 1968 and 1974, more than 200 women who delivered babies at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center were sterilized.
While this may be shocking, it barely scratches the surface.
From 1909 to 1979, more than 20,000 people were sterilized in California as a result of eugenics laws, one-third of the total number performed in the 32 states where such actions were legal. Driven by prejudiced, xenophobic, discriminatory and violent notions of science and social control, eugenics laws were federally funded sterilization programs that took place in a majority of states from the early 1900’s to the late 1970’s. Typically, these programs targeted people who were deemed “other” and inferior by mainstream society: Black women, Latinx women, immigrant women, women of color, poor women, unmarried mothers, and women with disabilities.
In California specifically, eugenics laws were driven largely by anti-Mexican prejudice. As a result, these laws had a disproportionate impact on Latinx women, working class women, and women with disabilities. This state sponsored violence is an example of the dehumanizing harm that comes when capitalism and patriarchy are at the center of the medical industry. These laws perfectly illustrate the insidious nature of systemic racism and the ways it strips women of color of their right to have autonomy and agency over their bodies. Now, nearly 40 years later, as a result of the tireless efforts of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), California is finally on its way to making amends to the survivors of these state-sponsored sterilizations.
Last month, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a formal public apology to the over 200 women sterilized without proper consent at LA County/USC Medical Center from 1968 – 1974. As part of the apology, LA County will install a plaque on the County/USC Medical Center campus to acknowledge and apologize for the injustice and irreparable harm done.
The LA County motion supports a statewide bill, SB 1190.Co-sponsored by CLRJ, SB 1190 seeks to provide compensation to any victim of state-sponsored sterilization and to issue an apology to the women affected. This bill will establish a compensation fund for survivors of California Eugenics Laws. This is an historic step towards securing justice for the thousands of women whose lives have been irrevocably altered as a result of racist and discriminatory policies and practices.
Honoring the experiences of the Madrigal 10, the ten Latinx women who brought this issue to the forefront in a class-action lawsuit in 1975, CLRJ is demonstrating exactly what it means to practice and fight for gender justice. It is not just about securing symbolic wins but creating the mechanisms that will ensure that true reconciliation, compensation, and justice can occur.
We were able to talk with Laura Jiménez, Executive Director of CLRJ, and hear more about the significance of SB 1190, plans for implementing the compensation fund, and what this means for other groups fighting for reparations to address institutional harms.
Women’s Foundation of CA (WFC): Why is a bill like SB 1190 important? What sort of precedent does it set for community organizers and leaders fighting for reparations and reconciliation for past/present harms?
Laura Jiménez: Between 1909 and 1979 there were over 60,000 people sterilized under eugenics laws in the country. California had the most active sterilization program in the nation, sterilizing more than 20,000 people. It is part of our history, one most of us do not grow up knowing as Californians. The people affected by SB 1190 lived in state institutions and were classified as having disabilities or were deemed “unfit for reproduction” by the state. People affected under California’s Eugenics Law were robbed of the right to form a family. At CLRJ we believe that no one has the right to interfere in a person’s decisions about how, if, or when they would like to form a family. The right to bodily autonomy is a fundamental reproductive justice issue.
WFC: Who was involved in the campaign efforts? Can you describe how this campaign is intergenerational?
Laura Jiménez: We worked with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) – and experts in the field like Dr. Alexandra Stern of the University of Michigan who have worked on uncovering this dark history in California for years.
Our own work at CLRJ around this issue has been intergenerational since the time that we began collaborating with the makers of “No Mas Bebes”, the film which chronicled the stories of the Latinas who were coercively sterilized at the LA County/USC Medical Center in the 1970s and 1980s. Although these women are not eligible for compensation under SB 1190, the film screenings and discussions which we held over the past three years in communities and especially with our own chapter leaders exposed multiple generations to this story and its intricate connection to Reproductive Justice. These supporters of all ages have turned into important advocates who made legislative visits at both in-district and Sacramento legislative offices to share with their representatives the important statement it would make for them to support and pass SB 1190.
WFC: What are the next steps with the compensation fund? How will the survivors receive compensation? And why is it important that the survivors of these atrocious crimes receive compensation?
Laura Jiménez: The next steps with the compensation fund are to regroup as a coalition since the bill did not pass this year. It will be important to work on both a legislative and a budget strategy to be able to pass this bill next year.
By passing a Sterilization Compensation Bill, California would join North Carolina and Virginia, the only other two states to date that have developed ongoing compensation efforts for survivors sterilized under state eugenics laws. Although there is no amount of money that can truly “compensate” survivors for the violence done to them by the state by the loss of their reproductive capacity, providing redress for survivors of state-sponsored sterilization are matters of disability justice and reproductive justice.
WFC: Can you share any key takeaways that came up for CLRJ during this fight to secure justice for the survivors of sterilizations?
Laura Jiménez: We were reaffirmed in our understanding of storytelling as an important tool in our legislative efforts. In early August, our coalition was proud to stand with some survivors and their families in front of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors as they passed a resolution in support of SB 1190 and issued a formal apology to the people sterilized at LA County/USC Medical Center. Their testimony in that hearing, as in the film “No Mas Bebes” was not only powerful, but we believe that it prompted the advancement of our bill in the legislature and catalyzed the growing movement in support of compensation for the survivors of forced sterilization.