Forty years later, only one state is making reparations for thousands of forced sterilizations.
From the early decades of the 20th century until 1974, 32 states in the union mandated the sterilization of more than 65,000 citizens. At the behest of government eugenics boards, girls and women had their tubes tied or uteri removed, and boys and men their vasa deferentia snipped because they had been deemed unfit to reproduce. Still others came under the scalpel of private doctors, and this second group makes the calculations difficult—65,000 represents only the number of sterilizations where there was municipal paperwork.
In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Eugenics Compensation statute, and last week the state’s department of commerce began the long-awaited disbursement of financial reparations to victims of sterilization. Two hundred twenty living victims will receive checks of $20,000 each—220 checks, out of 768 claims. Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized at least 7,600 people. However mortifying the disparity here, we must give the Assembly credit for passing legislation that no other state has so far brought to a vote; by contrast, California has kept positively mum about its own similar history, which accounts for a third of all American sterilizations.