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California State Capitol Building

A brutal chapter in American history began in 1909 with the stroke of a doctor’s pen.

California’s eugenics law, enacted that year, allowed medical officials to order the forced sterilization of people they deemed “feebleminded” or otherwise unfit to have children. Over the next seven decades, they carried out the surgeries at an industrial scale. More than 20,000 people, many of them with disabilities or psychiatric disorders, went under the knife in a campaign so efficient Germany’s Nazis took notice.

Now, more than 40 years after the law was repealed, California is on the cusp of approving financial reparations for the few surviving victims of the country’s largest mass sterilization program.

Legislation setting aside $7.5 million for the payments was included in the quarter-trillion-dollar state budget awaiting a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). A companion bill laying out how the fund would operate is awaiting a vote in the state Senate.

If approved, the reparations would represent a breakthrough for survivors of forced sterilization and bring a measure of closure to countless others whose relatives had their reproductive organs... see more