Complete Video Now Online for "Eugenics in California: A Legacy of the Past?"

Posted by Center for Genetics and Society September 28, 2012
Biopolitical Times
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A video recording is now available of this public event, held at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law on August 28, 2012.

For much of the 20th century, California was at the forefront of eugenic ideology and practices in the United States, and holds the dubious distinction of being the state with the highest number of eugenic sterilizations performed under the authority of law – some 20,000 procedures between 1909 and the mid-1950s. Coerced sterilizations continued in public hospitals into the 1970s, and it has recently come to light that in very recent years, women prisoners in California have been sterilized without their consent or knowledge. Today, California is a leader in research and services related to human genomics and assisted reproductive technologies. Speakers at this public event considered the long history of eugenics in California and explored continuities and discontinuities in the uses and misuses of genetic ideas and practices.

Welcome: Dean Christopher Edley, Berkeley School of Law

Moderator: Troy Duster, Chancellor’s Professor and Senior Fellow at the Warren Institute for Law and Social Policy, UC Berkeley


Eugenic Sterilization in California: Stories and Statistics

Miroslava Chávez-García, University of California at Davis and Alexandra Minna Stern, University of Michigan

We provide an overview of the patterns of the 20,000 eugenic sterilizations performed in California state institutions from 1909 to 1979, with close attention to race, gender, class, and diagnosis. We will also highlight stories of sterilization victims and the ways in which they attempted to challenge the state's authority to control and contain their reproductive rights. As we will demonstrate, the process had a devastating impact on the victims.

¿Más Bebés? (documentary film)

Renee Tajima-Peña, University of California at Santa Cruz; Virginia Espino, University of California at Santa Cruz, and Kate Trumbull, documentary filmmaker

The feature-length documentary ¿Más Bebés? (working title) investigates the history of Mexican American women who allege they were coercively sterilized at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s.  Many spoke no English, and testified that they were prodded into tubal ligations during active labor.  The sterilizations triggered the 1978 class action lawsuit, Madrigal v. Quilligan, and a protest campaign that galvanized the Chicana feminist movement.

Eugenics in California Women’s Prisons Today

Kimberly Jeffrey and Courtney Hooks, Justice Now

Since 2003, Justice Now has been working collaboratively with people in California’s women’s prisons to document how prisons violate the international right to family and function as a tool of reproductive oppression. Presenters will place a spotlight on personal experience with as well as the systemic pattern of destruction of reproductive capacity of women of color and gender variant people in California women’s prisons through several state-sanctioned policies, including forced and coerced sterilizations (e.g. the illegal and routine sterilization of hundreds of people in prison during labor and delivery), and other violations of safe motherhood and reproductive justice.

Should We Worry About a New Eugenics?

Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society

Today's fast-developing genetic and reproductive technologies offer significant benefits, but can also be misused in ways that exacerbate existing inequalities and create entirely new forms of injustice.  California, a hotbed of eugenic advocacy in the last century, is today a center of biotechnology research and commercial development and the assisted reproduction sector, as well as home to some troubling techno-enthusiastic ideologies. Our efforts to confront California's eugenic history can help prevent these dynamics from veering toward a new eugenics.

This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Genetics and Society and the UC Berkeley Haas Diversity Research Center, the UC Berkeley School of Law, as well as the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, American Cultures Center, Disability Studies Program, Disabled Students Program, Center for Reproductive Rights and Justice, and the Center for Race and Gender.

Marcy Darnovsky (
Alexandra Minna Stern (

Advisory committee: Miroslava Chávez-García, Troy Duster, Tony Platt, Sue Schweik

Image by Ebers García