Virginia Lawmaker Proposes Symbolic Reparations for Victims of Eugenic Sterilization

Posted by Jessica Cussins August 9, 2012
Biopolitical Times

Virginia delegate Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington) hopes to mark the 85th anniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling that gave states the power to surgically sterilize those deemed “unfit” to reproduce by raising awareness of this little-known chapter in American history.

In Virginia and dozens of other states, mental illness, physical disability, criminal behavior, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and being an interracial couple were all considered sufficient reasons to take away the ability of men and women to have children. Virginia’s eugenic sterilization law remained active until 1979; by then, over 8,000 people had been forcibly sterilized.

Virginia has made some strides forward in addressing its history, issuing an official apology in 2002. But as in the rest of the country, victims of involuntary sterilization have not seen a dime in reparations, and students rarely see a word about American eugenics in their textbooks.

When the story of eugenics and the fascination with purifying the human race is mentioned, it is told as a history located in and limited to Nazi Germany. But 32 US states had active eugenic sterilization laws for much of the twentieth century, and most have done little to address this injustice.

An effort in North Carolina to offer reparations to living victims of eugenic sterilization looked poised to succeed earlier this year, but was turned down by a cash-strapped Senate.  It’s doubtful that Virginia will offer any actual compensation to its living victims, but Hope has asked for “a symbolic payment” from the General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell. While hopefully not the end of the state’s efforts, the gesture marks increasing interest by state officials and others in formally addressing this ugly American story.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

•    Eugenics in California: A Legacy of the Past?
•    North Carolina Survivors of Eugenic Sterilization are Passed Over Again
•    North Carolina Leads the Way in Compensation for Eugenic Sterilization Victims