California’s new budget awaiting Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature includes reparations for people who were sterilized decades ago under the state’s eugenics laws and some women who were sterilized more recently while incarcerated.

The Associated Press reported the proposed payments would be up to $25,000, part of a $262.6 billion budget that “will make California at least the third state after Virginia and North Carolina to pay victims of the so-called eugenics movement that peaked in the 1930s.” According to the outlet, “Proponents believed sterilizing people with mental illnesses, physical disabilities and other so-called undesirable traits would improve the human race.” They were considered unfit to reproduce.

The AP went on to note that “California’s proposal is unique because it would apply to more than just victims of the eugenics law that was repealed in 1979.” The plan also calls for the state to pay female inmates who were coerced to get sterilizations, a state-sanctioned practice exposed by the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2013. The group found that doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had sterilized incarcerated women without proper approval. The results of an audit released the following year found 144 female inmates were sterilized by a procedure known as bilateral tubal ligation from 2005-2013, with 39 procedures done without lawful consent.

According to The Washington Post, more than 60,000 people were sterilized across the country last century as part of “a public health strategy embraced by 32 states under eugenics laws that advocated ‘better breeding.’” Many were reportedly sterilized “against their will or without their knowledge.”

In a 2018 interview with the Post, Barbara Swarr said her aunt, Rosie Zaballos, died at 16 during a sterilization operation in the 1930s. Family members had described her as “a little slow” and took her to a state-run hospital in California to get sterilized. Swarr had reportedly “pieced together the details of her aunt’s short life and the prevailing attitudes toward immigrants, poor people and those with disabilities.”


“This was something nobody thought twice about. ‘If they are not all there, if they are Hispanic…make sure they don’t breed these inferiors,’” she told the Post.

More details from the AP:

California’s forced sterilization program started in 1909, following similar laws in Indiana and Washington. California’s program was by far the largest. The state sterilized more than 20,000 people, accounting for about a third of everyone sterilized in the United States under those laws.

California’s law was so prominent it even inspired similar practices in Nazi Germany, according to Paul Lombardo, a law professor at Georgia State University and an expert on the eugenics movement.

“The promise of eugenics at the very earliest is: ‘We could do away with all the state institutions — prisons, hospitals, asylums, orphanages,’” Lombardo said. “People who were in them just wouldn’t be born after awhile if you sterilized all of their parents.”

Researchers say state records described some of the victims as “feeble-minded,” “weak-willed,” or “dependent on others” and claimed their alleged mental conditions were “likely to become transmitted to descendants.”

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