[Pnews] Survivors Of Forced Sterilizations In California Fight A Century Of Violence In Women’s Prisons

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 12 19:19:47 EDT 2021


https://shadowproof.com/2021/05/12/survivors-of-forced-sterilizations-in-california-fight-a-century-of-violence-in-womens-prisons/
Survivors
Of Forced Sterilizations In California Fight A Century Of Violence In
Women’s Prisons
Citlali Pizarro - May 12, 2021
------------------------------

California community organizers continue to fight for reparations after the
state forcibly sterilized people for more than a century, offering little
more than an empty apology and three rejected compensation bills.

Since 2017, organizers have pushed for legislation to compensate survivors
of forced sterilizations during the eugenics era, when states allowed the
practice to be carried out against over 60,000 disabled and imprisoned
people and later, in the 2000s, when hundreds of people in women’s prisons
were illegally sterilized against their will.

Community organizer Kelli Dillon and attorney Cynthia Chandler have fought
the abuse in California prisons for twenty years. In 2001, Dillon was
sterilized without her knowledge or consent while imprisoned. She later
reached out to Chandler for help getting access to her medical records.

Their meeting unfolded into a political struggle, documented in Erika
Cohn’s *Belly
of the Beast* <https://www.bellyofthebeastfilm.com/>, after Dillon and
Chandler uncovered a disturbing pattern within the California Department of
Corrections (CDCR), which paid doctors to perform illegal tubal ligations
<https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/tubal-ligation/about/pac-20388360#:~:text=During%20tubal%20ligation%2C%20the%20fallopian,fallopian%20tubes%20to%20the%20egg.>
on hundreds of Black and Latinx prisoners against their will, often without
their knowledge.

Lorena Garcia Zermeño is the Policy and Communications Coordinator for
California
Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) <https://californialatinas.org/>.
She holds political education events across the state.

“It’s happened more often than we would like, where we’re giving these
presentations and more than one person comes forward and says, ‘oh my god,
I think this happened to me with my doctor. I signed a consent form but it
wasn’t the correct one, and then there was some kind of weird medical
malpractice that happened.’ And then they realize they were sterilized,”
Zermeño said.

Aminah Elster was imprisoned during her “childbearing years.” As the
Campaign and Policy Coordinator for California Coalition for Women
Prisoners (CCWP) <https://womenprisoners.org/>, Elster organizes for
reproductive justice and prison abolition. She sees these two causes as
deeply connected.

“All of the work around police violence, defunding the police, reparations
[for forced and coerced sterilizations], the Prison-Industrial Complex,
it’s all interwoven and intertwined,” Elster said.

Chandler, Zermeño, Elster, and their organizations fight for reparations
for survivors. They have held political education events, circulated a
petition that has garnered nearly 14,000 signatures
<https://www.change.org/p/governor-newsom-reparations-for-california-forced-sterilization-survivors>,
sponsored compensation bills, and more.

Since 2017, they have pushed for legislation to compensate survivors of
forced and coerced sterilizations between 1909 and 2013.

The most recent iteration of the bill, AB 1007—co-sponsored by CLRJ and
CCWP, as well as  Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and Back
to the Basics <https://back2thebasicsla.org/>—is currently making its way
through committees in the California state assembly. In addition to
survivor compensation, the bill would establish an outreach program in
consultation with community-based organizations, whereby markers would be
placed at designated sites, raising public awareness of California’s
history of mass sterilization abuse.

“Many people in this country are not aware that these heinous acts of
reproductive injustice even occurred. A vital step is raising awareness
that this happened and educating people about it,” Carly Myers, an attorney
for DREDF said.

The original 2017 bill included a mandate for education about eugenics in
public schools, but legislators removed it.

In fighting to preserve the memory of forced sterilizations in California,
organizers are helping people better understand, and thereby combat,
present reproductive injustice. Political education, organizers argue, is
crucial to transforming the conditions that lead to this injustice.

AB 1007 would also require that the state formally notify every individual
it has coercively sterilized.

“The state shouldn’t be able to hide the violence that it’s done to
people’s bodies,” Chandler said.

Organizers say compensation is a critical component of the push for
reparations, to acknowledge this abuse that has been practiced in
California for over a century, and to demonstrate an authentic commitment
to preventing it in the future.

“People need to be compensated for the harm that has been done to them. And
also it sends a statement as well that this is not acceptable. This is not
acceptable for medical professionals to be coming in here experimenting on
individuals,” Elster said.

Myers is hopeful that, in passing AB 1007, California might set an example
for other states.

“We really need a material acknowledgment to set a strong precedent
nationwide that we don’t stand for this behavior, and by making a
meaningful gesture recognizing its wrongdoing, we’re making a true promise
that it will never happen again,” Myers said.

Importantly, financial compensation is just one pillar of a reparations
platform. Community Organizer Mariame Kaba describes reparations as a
framework including repair, restoration, acknowledgment, cessation, and non
repetition.

Writing about reparations after Breonna Taylor’s murder by Louisville
police officer Myles Cosgrove, Kaba and co-writer Andrea J. Ritchie state,
“Under a reparations framework, Breonna’s family—and all of us—are also
entitled to more than an individualized response to what is a systemic
problem.”

Organizers recognize that monetary compensation does not equate to justice.
No amount of money can bring back a survivor’s reproductive capacity or
transform the conditions that led to this reproductive abuse.

“But it does go far beyond words,” Meyers said, “and it will more
effectively acknowledge the wrongs done by the state.”

The compensation bill has bipartisan support, but so far, no iteration has
made it past the appropriations committee, where state legislators decide
how and where to allocate funds. AB 1007 is currently suspended in that
committee. It will be heard on May 20th.

“Most people, in theory, want to be on the side of history that’s opposed
to eugenics. But where they’ve been lacking in action is actually putting a
dollar priority behind it,” Chandler said.

While many legislators have agreed that survivors of forced and coerced
sterilizations deserve compensation, they continue to stop short of
actually granting it.

“I’ve heard legislators say, ‘if we were to do reparations for this, we
have to do reparations for other things. Why should we start with this
issue?’ Well, why not start with this issue? Why not start with an actual
public mandate and resolve that says ‘we will not tolerate the annihilation
of Black women’s families?’” Chandler said.

“I think that until the state legislature agrees to compensate people for
this abuse, they are complicit with the racism and sexism that was at the
root of this abuse,” Chandler said. “Absent real accountability, I think
we’re doomed for this to repeat over and over and over again.”
*Breaking Cycle Of State-Sanctioned Reproductive Violence*

Throughout the 20th century, the United States waged a violent campaign
against the reproductive rights of disabled and imprisoned people, the vast
majority of whom were Black and/or Latinx. It was eugenics, and California
was the national leader.

Eugenicists advocated for forced sterilization to prevent people they
deemed “unfit” from having children. California eugenicists justified mass
sterilization by framing the procreation of these groups as harmful to the
state.

Forcibly stripping “unfit” people of their right to reproduce, they argued,
was a convenient way to save state funds and prevent overcrowding in state
institutions.

California passed its first sterilization law
<https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/CA/CA.html> in 1909, targeting
primarily people in state hospitals, “mental institutions,” and prisons.
Over the next eight years, the state legislature expanded its scope,
increasing its capacity to sterilize people. By 1917, the state had
empowered itself to sterilize virtually anyone it deemed “unfit to
reproduce” for any reason.

Notably, the law did not afford patients control over their bodies. Under
all iterations of the law, patient consent was not required for
sterilization, patients had no legal rights to challenge sterilization
orders, and state officials had no obligation to notify patients or their
families that they had been sterilized.

Eugenic sterilizations were a tool of white supremacy used against
communities that eugenicists believed threatened “the strength and
wellbeing of the race.” <https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/CA/CA.html>
People who were sterilized were typically categorized by white supremacists
in at least one of three ways: dependent, delinquent, or mentally
deficient.

People labeled “dependent” were usually poor, receiving welfare payments
from the state. People considered “delinquent” were often sterilized as a
“cure for sexual promiscuity,” or a treatment for “criminal” behavior.
“Mentally deficient” was used as a catchall, referring to people with
substance use disorders, depression, Down’s syndrome, and a wide range of
other mental and physical disabilities.

Across all three categories, people targeted for sterilization were
disproportionately women and racial and ethnic minorities, specifically
Black and/or Latinx.

“It’s these very particular notions of who is fit to parent that are at
play here, and it’s very deeply rooted in white supremacy. And [that’s]
what we have been continuously screaming at the top of our lungs for a very
long time,” Zermeño said.

California’s sterilization law went largely uncontested by state officials
for 70 years. By 1921, the state accounted for over 80 percent of
sterilizations in the U.S. In the 1930s, California’s aggressive
sterilization law was used as a model
<https://www.sfgate.com/business/article/State-s-little-known-history-of-shameful-science-2663925.php>
for the Nazi regime’s “purification” efforts.

By the time the law was repealed in 1979, the state had forcibly sterilized
over 20,000 people.

“Throughout history, people with disabilities have been looked down upon
and seen as not only unfit to reproduce, but unfit to exist. The eugenics
era and the sterilizations that happened in this country were emblematic of
those ideas,” Myers said.  “With the repeal of the eugenics law, those
ideologies certainly didn’t disappear.”
*Losing Survivors To Time*

Tens of thousands of survivors of eugenic sterilizations have died over the
course of a century, and many living survivors of both past and
contemporary sterilizations are at high-risk for COVID-19. The fact that so
many haven’t had an opportunity for reparation lends a greater sense of
urgency to pass legislation in support of those who are still alive.

“Every year, that number of survivors that would be able to receive
compensation and reparations is dwindling,” Zermeño said. “We really hope
that this will be the year. But also, it has to be.”

Of the over 20,000 disabled and imprisoned people forcibly sterilized in
California during the eugenics era, there are an estimated 455 alive today.

“If we don’t provide reparations this year, these 455 people, just like the
[over] 19,500 people before them, will die without seeing any form of
justice. That’s not okay,” Myers said.

Recent uprisings in response to racism, calls to defund and abolish the
police, and the COVID-19 pandemic all make the reparations bill even more
timely.

“The global pandemic has exposed disparities in healthcare treatment that
not only disabled people, but also Black people, people of color, women,
and poor people have experienced for decades. And this bill provides
California an opportunity to be a leader in addressing these disparities
and the violence that has occurred within carceral settings,” Myers said.
------------------------------

When Kelli Dillon wrote to Cynthia Chandler in 2001, she was imprisoned at
Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), 24 years-old and experiencing
symptoms of menopause. Dillon sought treatment from prison medical staff
for cramps, and was told she needed an operation for cervical cancer—cancer
she later found out she did not have.

After the operation, she was denied access to her own medical records, so
she enlisted Chandler’s help. The two finally met when Chandler obtained
the records and discovered Dillon had been involuntarily sterilized.

“I had to tell her in that first meeting that I had figured out that she
had been sterilized without her knowledge,” Chandler said.

Dillon’s sterilization happened over two decades after forced
sterilizations were outlawed in California.

When Dillon reached out to her, Chandler was running Justice Now
<https://twitter.com/justicenoworg?lang=en>, a Prison-Industrial Complex
(PIC) abolitionist organization centering the experiences of people in
women’s prisons.

Critical Resistance
<http://criticalresistance.org/about/not-so-common-language/> defines the
PIC as “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use
surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social,
and political problems.” Justice Now maintains that the PIC upholds
patriarchy by perpetuating gender-based violence, specifically against
women of color, who make up two-thirds
<https://www.aclu.org/other/words-prison-did-you-know> of women in prison.

“People in women’s prisons are so often the survivors of gross
interpersonal violence that goes unacknowledged by our current criminal
legal system,” Chandler said.

Organizations like Justice Now oppose carceral feminism
<https://transformharm.org/carceral-feminism/>, which advocates for
increasing the scope of prisons and policing as a solution to gender-based
violence. “We wanted to be able to create a very gender-focused
abolitionist organization that would challenge the idea that prisons and
policing are a response to violence against women, and instead show that
prisons and policing are a *form* of violence against women,” Chandler
said.

Some call it the abuse-to-prison pipeline
<https://www.law.georgetown.edu/poverty-inequality-center/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2019/02/The-Sexual-Abuse-To-Prison-Pipeline-The-Girls%E2%80%99-Story.pdf>,
whereby survivors are criminalized and imprisoned for their responses to
domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence.

Nearly 79 percent of people in women’s prisons nationwide have experienced
domestic or sexual abuse prior to their imprisonment. And 86 percent of
women in prisons and jails report
<https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/overlooked-women-and-jails-report-updated.pdf>
having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Still, the data on
imprisoned survivors is sparse and in many cases outdated—an indictment in
and of itself.

As many as 90 percent of women imprisoned for killing men have been abused
by those men prior to killing them. Dillon herself is a survivor of
domestic violence—she was coercively sterilized while imprisoned for
killing her abuser in self-defense.
*“I Do Not Feel ‘Safer’ Here”*

In prison, survivors are isolated from their communities and subjected to
further violence. In *Are Prisons Obsolete?*, longtime prison abolitionist
Angela Davis quotes prisoner Marcia Bunny, who said, “I do not feel ‘safer’
here because ‘the abuse has stopped.”

“It has not stopped,” Bunny said. “It has shifted shape and paced itself
differently, but it is as insidious and pervasive in prison as ever it was
in the world I know outside these walls.”

Sexual assault by staff occurs in carceral facilities across the U.S. It is
particularly rampant in women’s prisons.

In 2011, Amnesty International found that
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/women_prison.pdf> staff routinely
sexually assault, harass, and extort people in women’s prisons with
impunity.

“Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against [prisoners]
who complain about sexual assault and harassment,” the report reads.
“Guards threaten the prisoner’s children and

visitation rights as a means of silencing the women. Guards issue
rules-infraction tickets, which extend the woman’s stay in prison if she
speaks out. Prisoners who complain are frequently placed in administration
segregation.”

According to data that the CDCR released in compliance with the Prison Rape
Elimination Act
<https://www.prearesourcecenter.org/about/prison-rape-elimination-act> ,
326 instances of prison staff sexual assaulting prisoners were reported
<https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/prea/wp-content/uploads/sites/186/2020/07/Annual-Report-2019.pdf?label=Annual%20Report,%202019&from=https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/prea/prea/reports-audits/>
in California in 2019. Between 2014 and 2018, the CDCR fired at least six
prison guards
<https://www.kqed.org/news/11786495/metoo-behind-bars-new-records-shed-light-on-sexual-abuse-inside-state-womens-prisons>
for sexually assaulting people in women’s prisons. The vast majority of
instances of sexual violence in prisons go unreported and unaddressed.

Prisons also enact gender-based violence by obstructing prisoners’ right to
family.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
<https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights#:~:text=Article%2016&text=Men%20and%20women%20of%20full,marriage%20and%20at%20its%20dissolution.>,
every individual has the right to “found a family, without limitation due
to race, nationality, or religion.” Prisons function to prevent people from
accessing their right to family through systematic isolation, confinement
during reproductive years, forced and coerced sterilization, and a lack of
reproductive healthcare.

The CDCR obstructed Dillon’s right to family both by sterilizing her
without her consent while she was imprisoned, and by imprisoning her in the
first place, separating her from her two children.

“Prison in itself is a eugenic tool,” Elster said. “I was arrested when I
was 24. I got out of prison when I was 39. And [I’m] trying to start a
family and learning I have my own reproductive issues.”

“So in a sense, being in prison for so long—especially during my
childbearing years—is a form of sterilization that I’m personally
experiencing myself.”
*Building An “Underground Network”*

Dillon contacted Chandler for help after hearing about Justice Now’s
participatory human rights program, which involved training an “underground
network” of hundreds of people confined in women’s prisons in international
human rights law.

Program participants documented abuses they witnessed and experienced in
prison, including sexual violence and coerced sterilization.

After discovering she was sterilized, Dillon began connecting with other
people in women’s prisons who had the same experiences. She documented the
abuses and collected testimonies for Justice Now, and the organization
began petitioning for legislation to ban sterilizations for birth control
purposes in prisons.

“Documenting and working to challenge forced and coerced sterilizations
highlights, perhaps most clearly, how prisons are functioning as a form of
neoslavery,” Chandler said.

Historically, systems of enslavement are partially maintained through natal
alienation. Historian and Professor Tyree Boyd-Pates defines
<https://twitter.com/TyreeBP/status/1351045021399711748> natal alienation
as “the estrangement or disconnection from historical memory, which occurs
by severing an individual from their kinship traditions, cultural heritage
(including language and religion), and economic inheritance through
experiences of social death.”

“When you look at that abuse in women’s prisons—and frankly, when you look
at the experience of people in women’s prisons in general—you see most
clearly the destruction of kinship ties,” Chandler said. “Sterilization
abuse is the ultimate manifestation of this destruction of family.”

Justice Now’s investigation found illegal forced and coerced sterilizations
were widespread in California. Between 1997 and 2013, the CDCR forcibly and
coercively sterilized
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/30/california-prisons-forced-sterilizations-belly-beast>
nearly 1,400 people in women’s prisons.

“The doctors were not hiding the fact that they were doing this. The
Department of Corrections wasn’t hiding it. There was sort of a general
unawareness that there would be any problem with it,” Chandler said.

In July 2013, Corey Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting
(CIR) found
that
<https://revealnews.org/article/female-inmates-sterilized-in-california-prisons-without-approval/>
between 2006 and 2010, California paid doctors to perform illegal, forced
or coerced bilateral-tubal ligations on at least 148 prisoners at
California Institution for Women and Valley State Prison for Women.
Documents and interviews showed there may have been as many as 100 more
forced or coerced sterilizations in women’s prisons dating back to the
1990s. The vast majority of people sterilized were Black and/or Latinx.

Between 1997 and 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the
illegal tubal ligations. Prisons were able to get the state to pay for the
procedures by falsely reporting them “medically necessary.”

Dr. James Heinrich, a now 77-year-old white male OB-GYN, performed several
coerced sterilizations with state funds. He told CIR the $147, 460 “isn’t a
huge amount of money, compared to what you save in welfare paying for these
unwanted children.”

Heinrich’s words, uttered in 2013, sound eerily like that of eugenicists
one hundred years prior.

“There’s still this very eugenic belief that these women—that low income
people, that disabled people, that people who are categorized as
criminals—that their reproduction is harmful to the state,” Sterilization
and Social Justice Lab researcher Natalie Lira said.
*Sterilizing Women In Prison Today*

By the time CIR published its investigation, members of Justice Now had
been trying to get legislators to pay attention to forced and coerced
sterilizations in women’s prisons for years. Many lawmakers dismissed them.

“I was treated as if I was walking into legislative offices and telling
them that space aliens had landed,” Chandler said.

It wasn’t until 2013, after years of action by Justice Now and the CIR
article, that the state agreed to conduct an audit.

 “The audit hearings […] were looking at the illegal use of state funds on
illegal surgeries. They were not looking at the abuse of Black and Latina
women. They were looking at inappropriate fiscal allocations. That’s how we
were able to get the state legislature’s ire up,” Chandler said.

The audit <https://www.auditor.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2013-120.pdf>, published
in June 2014, found that 144 people in women’s prisons were illegally
sterilized via bilateral-tubal ligation in the seven years leading up to
2013—a procedure “generally performed for the sole purpose of
sterilization.” It also found that prison staff  “infrequently” obtained
proper approval to sterilize prisoners and, in many instances, failed to
obtain lawful consent for these procedures.

In September 2014, after years of campaigning, the California Senate passed
SB 1135 outlawing sterilizations for the purpose of birth control in
prisons. The bill also mandated that state prisons annually submit public
data <https://www.bscc.ca.gov/m_dataresearch/> on every sterilization
procedure performed on prisoners.

The data indicates that ten tubal ligations—surgeries that, as the 2014
audit stated, are typically performed for the sole purpose of preventing
pregnancy—were performed in California women’s prisons between 2015 and
2019.

Five of the prisoners sterilized via tubal ligation during these years were
Latinx, four were Black, and one was white American. Of the ten tubal
ligations, seven were reported “medically necessary,” just like the
sterilizations of the 1920s. One was reportedly performed for the
“immediate preservation of life in an emergency situation.”

According to the report, only two of the ten patients sterilized via tubal
ligation during those years requested the procedure of their own volition.
The data also indicates that between 2015 and 2017, at least two
sterilizations were performed without the necessary approval and/or
knowledge of the appropriate CDCR health services centers.

“There are still instances of sterilization that look to be, on their face,
in violation of law, both federal and state,” Chandler said. “I believe
that the numbers of coerced sterilizations have shrunk since we did that
bill, but I do not believe that they have ended.”
*Outlawing Forced Sterilization Is Not Enough*

While the 2014 bill was a step toward ending forced and coerced
sterilization in prisons, there’s still much work to be done to end these
abuses in earnest. Rather than just lobbying the state, Chandler said the
community must continue to mobilize.

“The Sunshine Statue that we were able to pass to stop coercive
sterilization is now being used to deny access to reproductive care and
justify denial of care for people inside prison,” Chandler said.

“Reform efforts in the absence of grassroots mobilization typically end up
kicking people in the butt in ways that you can’t really predict,” she
added. “So if all we were doing was trying to do just that bill, I don’t
think that we could even call that a success in the end, in terms of how we
reduce suffering in the world.”

The CDCR’s healthcare system is infamous for its brutality, including
systematically sterilizing Black and Latinx people, allowing for the
preventable deaths of multiple prisoners, and refusing to release medically
vulnerable people as COVID-19 ravages its prisons.

In 2002, after years of preventable prisoner deaths, the CDCR healthcare
system was found to violate the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
which prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment. A California court of
appeals ordered <https://www.oyez.org/cases/2010/09-1233> the CDCR to
release tens of thousands of prisoners and provide adequate healthcare.

The CDCR failed to comply
<https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2006/mar/15/federal-court-seizes-california-prisons-medical-care-appoints-receiver-with-unprecedented-powers/>
with the court order, and its healthcare system was put under a federal
receivership
<https://cchcs.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/60/2018/09/Receiver-FactSheet.pdf>,
wherein a “receiver” oversees its operations, reporting to a federal court.

Hundreds of coerced sterilizations have been performed under the
supervision of federal receivers.

The CDCR routinely treats prisoners’ lives, health, and bodies as
expendable. The carceral system is dehumanizes prisoners by design, deeming
them unworthy of protection or bodily autonomy.

The state controls whether, how, and for what prisoners are allowed to seek
medical care; when and how they’re able to practice hygiene; and when, how,
and with what they’re able to nourish their bodies, among other
things—including one’s ability to reproduce.

It follows that forced and coerced sterilizations were allowed to occur in
women’s prisons long after they were outlawed.

“We’re talking about people that are really confined and imprisoned and
have no autonomy over their own bodies,” Elster said. “We’re talking about
really disadvantaged people that are easily taken advantage of and, for the
most part, larger society has cast away as rejects. They don’t even see
them as human.”
*“Who Gets To Decide?”*

Lira has studied eugenic sterilizations in California for several years.

“For me, history is really about, yes, drawing parallels between then and
now, but also figuring out how to learn from that moment,” she told
Shadowproof.

“Eugenicists were progressives as well. They were about using the
government in ways to ‘benefit’ society. But really, we need to understand:
what is our vision of a ‘better’ society? Who gets to decide that? Who is
included in that and who is excluded?”

Ironically, California’s “progressivism” has motivated reform ideologies
and practices that deeply entrench structural oppression.

In 1917, California established Pacific Colony, an institution for
“feeble-minded” individuals. A Board of Trustees was empowered to grant
permission to sterilize people there. The mean age of people confined at
Pacific Colony was 18.

“Mental institutions” like Pacific Colony have a long history of
collaboration with the carceral system. Much like the “delinquent” label,
the state used “feeble-minded” as a way to identify people for exclusion
from society and confinement in institutions.

The juvenile court system played a significant role in determining who
would be confined at Pacific Colony.

“Part of the argument around establishing Pacific Colony was very much
about wanting to humanize the juvenile court system—that young people don’t
need to be in prisons, but they do need to be confined. But if we create
this new institution, then it will be more humane,” Lira said.

“But actually, it was about punishment. It was about control and
punishment.”

Today, Lira worries that the state is repeating its pattern of finding
“more humane” ways to control and punish marginalized people. In the wake
of calls to defund the police, Lira warns of a progressive push to allocate
more funds and power to health professionals.

“That sounds a lot more humane and less violent, but if we look at this
history of eugenics and this history of institutionalization, it was social
workers and mental health professionals that were doing these things, too.
And so we have to be really careful,” Lira said.

In 2003, California Governor Gray Davis publicly apologized
<https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2003-mar-12-me-sterile12-story.html#:~:text=On%20Tuesday%2C%20Gov.,you%20endured%20over%20the%20years.>
for forced sterilizations after four other states issued apologies for
their roles in the eugenics movement.

 “To the victims and their families of this past injustice, the people of
California are deeply sorry for the suffering you endured over the years.
Our hearts are heavy for the pain caused by eugenics. It was a sad and
regrettable chapter […] that must never be repeated,” he said.

Davis made no mention of compensating survivors in this apology or the
remainder of his term as Governor. And his decision to frame eugenics as a
“past injustice” obfuscates the reality that sterilization abuse is a
contemporary issue.

At the time of Davis’ apology, there were likely over 1,000 living
survivors who had received neither compensation nor support for the abuses
the state inflicted upon them.

“Apology is not enough. Apology is just words and writing,” Elster said.
------------------------------

Above all, organizers stress the need for systemic change in order to truly
end and further prevent sterilization abuse in all settings.

To many organizers, this ideological shift requires abolishing the systems
that have made mass sterilization abuse possible in the first place. This
means eliminating the PIC, including its manifestations in healthcare
settings, like the institutions where tens of thousands of eugenics
sterilizations took place in the 1900s.

The central issue for organizers is not just that California has yet to
grant reparations for forced sterilizations, or even that they continued in
women’s prisons long after they were outlawed. It’s the PIC itself.

“Whenever you put people in conditions of confinement and into carceral
institutions, they lose power over their bodies. And that’s how we get
these really unjust histories of reproductive oppression,” Lira said.

Forcibly sterilizing people is a logical extension of confining people and
denying their human rights as punishment for violating the laws of the
state. As Chandler notes, “Imprisonment itself is the vector of human
rights abuse. It’s doing its job when it is, in fact, sterilizing people.”

Lira says prisons should not exist. “I think that’s the biggest factor. Any
prison, jail, setting of confinement, is open to abuse. Period. So I think
until we get rid of that, it’s going to be really hard to prevent [mass
sterilization abuse] from happening again.”

“I think [this will continue] until we start really saying, […] ‘Even if
you broke the law, you shouldn’t be incarcerated. You shouldn’t be
separated from your family,’” she said.

The way forward then, is dismantling the systems that allow for
reproductive oppression and creating new ones, that affirm everyone’s
humanity.

“We should really be upholding bodily autonomy, self-determination, and
making sure that there are systems in place that support our communities,
and that we’re making sure that everyone has the resources and the support
they need to thrive and to be able to live with dignity,” Zermeño said.

Or, as  Elster put it, “Incarceration is a tool of reproductive
suppression. And the only way around that is abolition.”
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