Forced Sterilizations and Targeting Marginalized Communities

By Emma Gilham

Earlier this fall, whistleblower allegations at an ICE detention center in Georgia of forced sterilizations swept news headlines. Dawn Wooten, the whistleblower and former nurse at the center, claimed consent was not obtained for these procedures, the patients were not informed of what was happening, and those that objected were placed in solitary confinement. An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security has been opened into the misconduct at Irwin County Detention Center after significant urging from federal elected officials, as ethical questions such as obtaining informed consent and negligence have been raised. While the investigation is a start, it cannot be ignored that consistent complaints of misconduct have emerged from these detention centers and that the government has an unsavory history with forced sterilizations. The first eugenics law was passed in 1907 in Indiana, inspiring 31 other states to follow. In the CNN article, “In a horrifying history of forced sterilizations, some fear the US is beginning a new chapter”, “The laws, which led to officials ordering sterilizations of people they deemed ‘feeble-minded’ or ‘mentally defective,’” later became models for Nazi Germany.” Throughout the 20th century other government-backed forced sterilizations occurred, which unsurprisingly targeted BIPOC womxn. Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer had a non-consensual hysterectomy while she was having surgery for another health issue in 1961. She brought attention to the issue in her activism. Even into the 2000s, sterilizations were illegally funded by the state of California on incarcerated womxn. Time and time again vulnerable groups have been sterilized at increasing rates. To clarify, hysterectomies and tubal ligation are irreversible and valid forms of birth control. However, the aforementioned instances of forced sterilization often included preying on, coercing, or misinforming womxn into having these procedures. In the end, the investigation into the Irwin County Detention Center is just the tip of the iceberg.

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