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Women around the world have many issues that they face and need to overcome. One of these issues is forced sterilization. Forced sterilization is the process of permanently ending someone’s ability to reproduce without his or her consent. This has occurred around the world, including here in the United States. The reasons for this atrocity also varies, as does the procedure. Along with the human rights violation that forced sterilization infringes upon comes some health risks.
Forced sterilizations have occurred all over the world and in huge masses. For example, in Nazi Germany four 400,000 men and women were forcibly sterilized. In Sweden 63,000 people, mostly women, were sterilized. Over 800,000 men and women in Japan as well as 11,000 women from Finland were also sterilized without consent. These have all happened in the recent past. However, Australia’s figures are astounding because there have been over one thousand cases since 1992 (Yamaguchi, 1997).
This occurrence is a part of our past. It will always be part of our history. Although in the United States we look at this as something that did not really happen. This is not the type of history that is taught to children in school. We do, however, teach about the inhumanities of the Nazis. The connection is not made though that some of the tactics that the Nazis used were taken from United States practice (Piotrowski, 2000).
In the early 1900’s, the United States had a eugenics program (http://abcnews.go.com/onair/2020/2020_000322_eugenics_feature.html). With that program, the U.S. was attempting to perfect the gene pool. The hopeful outcomes were that of a society without crime, mental illness, and homelessness. The idea was that if the degenerates of society were kept from having children that society’s problems would disappear.
Outside the United States forced sterilization came out of other motives, often population control. Countries are faced with an increase in population without an increase of supplies or goods. Those working for the government has goals that they are supposed to meet each year for the number of sterilizations (http://cwfa.org/library/life/1998-12-29_life-peru.shtml). For example, Peru has had a target for the number of sterilizations to take place each year. In 1996, it was 100,000. It was not met that year, but the target for the next year was increased to 130,000. That year, the quota was met. Also, this mostly falls on the women. The women are the ones who are having the children, so they are the ones who are the victims of the sterilizations.
Although this is what the U.S. was doing, what the Nazis did seemed new. Americans were horrified about what was being done, and yet not realizing at the same time that some of the same things had gone on in their own country. The Nazis did take steps beyond what was done in the U.S. But the fact remains that part of what the Nazis did was taken from what the U.S. had already put into practice.
It was in 1907 that Indiana put the first law on the books broaching the subject of forced sterilization. Indiana was the first state to do so. Overall, thirty-five states had at one point had laws allowing forced sterilizations (http://abcnews.go.com/onair/2020/2020_000322_eugenics_feature.html). The subject even made it to the Supreme Court. In 1927 the Supreme Court upheld the Virginia state’s sterilization laws (Piotrowski, 2000). The case was Buck v. Bell and the decision led to increased sterilizations nationwide. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in reaction to the outcome of the case in relation to the ongoing eugenics program in the U.S., stated that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” President Coolidge said that “America must remain American,” which is in relation to the fact that some of those targeted for sterilization were immigrants (Piotrowski, 2000).
Most of the forced sterilizations and laws in the United States occurred in the 1930’s and 1940’s (Piotrowski, 2000). Virginia continued through the 1970’s though. For the most part, this is in the past in the United States. Around the world, the same cannot be said. Throughout the globe, forced sterilizations continue to be a threat to both women and men. For example, Japan’s last sterilization without consent was in 1992, and Peru started a population control program in 1996.
For the most part there is a select crowd that is targeted for forced sterilizations. If the country is working under a eugenics program, the poor, minorities, epileptics, manic-depressives, prostitutes, alcoholics, homeless, and criminals are the targets (Piotrowski, 2000). Often when the country is supporting a population control program, the poor and illiterate are the targets (Sims, 1998).
Often the way that these programs (eugenics and population control) followed through with the forced sterilizations were by indirect means. In the U.S. anyone who was considered feebleminded was a legal target for sterilization in thirty-five states. The country was also open to the eugenics program (http://abcnews.go.com/onair/2020/2020_000322_eugenics_feature.html).
There were magazines published discussing the benefits of such programs, such as Eugenics Quarterly. State fairs also held competitions determining the ‘best baby’ and the ‘fittest family.’ Movies such as “The Black Stork” were also made. This movie even went beyond the benefits of sterilization to include the idea of euthanasia. The country was in a state of mind that was accepting of these kind of actions.
Different tactics were taken in the situations where population control was a determining factors to lead to forced sterilizations (Sims, 1998). Often these countries are struggling with a large number of people in poverty. In some of these cases food and clothing are used as bribes to sterilize women.
Peru’s population control program, although it is not officially recognized by the government, uses some of these tactics (http://mcsnet.ab.ca/cad/FamilyLife/ForcedSteril.htm). Women are promised food and clothing for their children. When they show up to receive the food and clothes, they are told that in order to get the items they must be sterilized. If the refuse, sometimes they will get the items that month but are told that in the future they must be sterilized before getting the food and clothes. In these cases, the women feel as if they are being forced into making this decision in order to help care for the children she already has. In other cases, women are not even notified. Sometimes when women give birth, the doctors sterilize her without her consent and without her even knowing it. Another tactic that was used to trick the people was in Japan. There, some victims were told that they could have the procedure reversed at any time down the road (Yamaguchi, 1997).
Forced sterilizations can have detrimental health consequences. There can be medical complications or even death from this procedure (http://mcsnet.ab.ca/cad/FamilyLife/ForcedSteril.htm). The likelihood is also increased in poorer areas where the procedure was not done in a sterile hospital setting. The cases where the sterilizations take place in poor sanitary conditions leads to more complications for the women. Even when the women are in a hospital to have the sterilization, there can still be complications. When the women are given the sterilization for free in exchange for the food and clothing bribe, it is because they do not have enough money to support themselves. Also, the government only covers the actual procedure. Any treatment or medication after that is up to each woman to get. These women are not covered then when complications arise. They can then die from the complications because they cannot afford the treatment.
The past shows us what we are capable of doing now and in the future. The question is then, can it happen again here and abroad. For other countries throughout the world it is still occurring. A eugenics program just ended in Japan in 1996. Sweden and Finland both had forced sterilization up until the 1970’s, and Peru’s population control program started in 1995 (http://cwfa.org/library/life/1998-12-29_life-peru.shtml). For the United States, the question is not so clear. When this was occurring, the country’s mindset was positive toward this. Right now, the human rights component is such that we are not set to do this again in the near future. However, with the support of the public, anything is a possibility. Some of the state laws–those stated that anyone who was labeled feebleminded could be sterilized without consent–are still on the books. The Supreme Court case from 1927 still stands as well (http://abcnews.go.com/onair/2020/2020_000322_eugenics_feature.html).
In fact, in 1980 there was a class action suit that was rejected because of the precedent that the 1927 Supreme Court case established.
Even with the health risks that are evident for the victims, countries still used forced sterilizations as a means to an end, whether it be a eugenics program or a population control program. Forced sterilizations are then just one more example of something that women must endure throughout the world.
Piotrowski, Christa (2000). Neue Suricher Zeitchug. “Dark Chapter of American History:
Yamaguchi, Mari (1997). The News-Times. “Victims begin to talk about Japan’s sterilization program.” http://www.newstimes.com/archive97/dec1997/ind.htm