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Last week, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General received a formal complaint alleging that unnecessary hysterectomies were being performed on immigrants in custody at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Irwin County Detention center in Georgia. When systematically targeted toward a particular group, as in the case of China’s reported treatment of Uighur Muslims, forcible sterilization meets the International Criminal Court’s definition of genocide. The United States has a long history of using this practice to prevent women in stigmatized groups from having children. My research finds that many Americans still support sterilizing incarcerated women.

Forced sterilization in the U.S.

Since the early 20th century, thousands of Americans have been forcibly sterilized. Thirty-three states had eugenics boards with the power to order sterilizations. Oregon’s board approved its final sterilization in 1981. These boards targeted disabled people disproportionately, a practice upheld by the Supreme Court in 1927.

Research suggests this is not the only bias that existed in how these sterilizations were applied. North Carolina’s eugenics board targeted Black women at higher rates than White women after World War...

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