Reproductive Violence in America & the Justice the Relf Sisters are Due

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

Read journalist Linda Villarosa’s New York Times piece, “The Long Shadow of Eugenics in America” (June 8, 2022) to learn the story of the forced sterilization of the Welf sisters, as well as thousands of other victims of the deep-rooted history of reproductive violence at the hands of the government. Here is an excerpt:

In the summer of 1973, Minnie Lee and Mary Alice were taken from their home in Montgomery, cut open and sterilized against their will and without the informed consent of their parents by a physician working in a federally funded clinic. The Relf case would change the course of history: A lawsuit filed on their behalf, Relf v. Weinberger, helped reveal that more than 100,000 mostly Black, Latina and Indigenous women were sterilized under U.S. government programs over decades. It also officially ended this practice and forced doctors to obtain informed consent before performing sterilization procedures — though as it would turn out, forced sterilizations by state governments would continue into the 21st century.

Read more excerpts after the fold and the full article here.


“You start seeing people sterilized in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and beyond as a population-control measure, as a means of decreasing the dependent population, which was the same idea the eugenicists had, but now without the laws,” says Paul A. Lombardo, a professor at the Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta, author of “Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell” and editor of “A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era.”

“It generally came down to sex and money, which means, ‘Who’s having babies that I don’t want my tax dollars to go to?’” Lombardo says. “So then you start identifying people like the Relfs.” He continues, “Those young girls represented the perfect storm of race, poverty and alleged disability.”

“Sterilization involves two forms of harm, the physical harm to one’s reproductive autonomy and the moral stigma associated with sterilization, including the suggestion that you are unworthy to reproduce, in the Relfs’ case because they are Black women,” Burnham says. “These women bear a mark of being deemed less than a full person. That moral harm has to be addressed by an apology, and it must come from the state. But they are also owed material redress, some sort of financial repair.”

This entry was posted in Race and Racism, Reproductive Rights. Bookmark the permalink.