By Claire, Communications Intern
The flip-side of the right to not having children is the right to have children. Over the course of the early- to mid-twentieth century, tens of thousands of women and men across this country were sterilized against their will by their state medical establishment in government-sanctioned eugenic programs. In attempts to control the heredity of the American Race, those deemed unfit for reproduction were sterilized; those considered undereducated, ‘sexually promiscuous’, ‘mentally retarded’, epileptic, and otherwise degenerate.
These genetic degenerates could not be left to their own devices, and their futures were decided by Eugenic Boards of medical doctors, psychologists, and social workers. IQ tests were given to discover mental retardation and family histories were build to find any trace of epilepsy, alcoholism, tuberculous, promiscuity, violence and a multitude of other degenerate factors. It is thought that many of the women and men sterilized on the basis of promiscuity and mental retardation were merely victims of antiquated sexual norms and a lack of education. Eugenic supporters claimed they were being progressive, and looking out for the best interest of everyone involved. In some cases women and men were locked up in mental homes and asylums for their adolescent or adult lives to protect the rest of society. The state of North Carolina participated in the social experiment of eugenics as well.
There are nearly 7, 600 victims from North Carolina like Elaine Riddick. Ms. Riddick, who was sterilized in 1968 after becoming pregnant at 14 after being raped, has experienced health issues, emotional trouble and failed marriages due to her sterilization. One of the youngest known victims was a 10 year old boy. Governor Easley apologized in 2002 but no reparations have been issues for the couple thousand victims still alive.
Many times the families of these victims were threatened with loss of welfare benefits if they did not comply with the Eugenic Board’s decision. This is the claim of Ms. Riddick whose illiterate grandmother signed off on the procedure. She feared she would lose the aid she received from the state. Many of the victims themselves did not fully understand that their sterilization would be permanent or what exactly sterilization meant. This happened across the country.
The right to Choice is very important to women. We fight the double-edge sword of anti-abortion and pro-sterilization rhetoric. Mothers who fall into the categories of young, poor, unwed and so forth are vilified by political pundits and used as talking points to push economically and socially conservative agendas. The attack on women’s bodies that we see in North Carolina and on the federal level is not a “pro-life” agenda. It is an agenda to control the influences and behaviors of women. It is an agenda that determines who can and should be a mother according to specific and ultimately arbitrary criteria.
We have reached a point in time when men (and women) in suits and white lab coats should stop making unilateral decisions about the bodies of individual women. No woman knows what she needs more than herself. No person can decide if a woman should be a mother more than her self.