Special Report

The 32 States That Used to Sterilize Their Citizens

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21. North Dakota
> Number of victims: 1,049 (38% male, 62% female)
> Years of sterilizations: 1913 – 1962

Following a pattern in many states, North Dakota’s 1913 law, passed as “an act to prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, insane, idiots, defectives, and rаpists…” was later replaced with a law that expanded the pool of sterilization candidates, but also added procedures meant to provide due process. Epileptics were removed from the list in 1961. As part of the eugenics movement, another bill was introduced to create a registry of mentally defective persons. Listed individuals would be restricted in a number of civic activities, including the purchase of land, engaging in lawsuits, and acquiring a marriage license. The bill failed to pass the legislature.

22. Oklahoma
> Number of victims: 556 (22% male, 78% female)
> Years of sterilizations: 1933 – 1955

Oklahoma’s list of sterilization candidates looked like those of most other states, but also included patients “likely to be a public or partial public charge.” An amendment to the law further provided that habitual criminals with two previous convictions could be forcefully sterilized. In 1942, in the landmark case of Skinner v. the State of Oklahoma, the Supreme Court held that forced sterilization was not an acceptable means of punishment for a crime. With this decision, Oklahoma sterilizations decreased precipitously.

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23. Oregon
> Number of victims: 2,341 (35% male, 65% female)
> Years of sterilizations: 1921 – 1983

In the years before final passage of Oregon’s sterilization law, powerful lobbies formed on either side of the eugenics debate. The pro-sterilization faction advocated for a bill year after year beginning in 1907, and when a law passed 10 years later, the anti-sterilization faction forced a public referendum that overturned the law. A new version of the bill was passed in 1919 but was declared unconstitutional in 1921 by a court as violating the constitutional provision against cruel and unusual punishment. In 1923 the law was once again repackaged as being “non-punitive and therapeutic for both the patient and society.” Though it was very similar to its predecessor, this version withstood challenges and was in effect until it was repealed in 1983.

24. Pennsylvania
> Number of victims: 270 (% male unknown,% female unknown)
> Years of sterilizations: 1889 – 1931

Efforts to provide for legal sterilization were made in the Pennsylvania legislature in 1905, 1911, 1913, 1915, 1917, 1919, and 1921. A bill was passed in 1905, known as An Act for the Prevention of Idiocy, but was vetoed by Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker. A second bill, passed in 1921, was vetoed by Governor William Sproul as violating the 14th Amendment.

Even in the absence of legislation, 260 sterilizations are known to have taken place in Pennsylvania in the last century, all of them at the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children at Elwyn. In the absence of records the gender of the victims is not known, nor the reasons for sterilization. It has been claimed that all such sterilizations were with the consent of the parents.

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25. South Carolina
> Number of victims: 277 (8% male, 92% female)
> Years of sterilizations: 1938 – 1963

As in most of the South, the culture of South Carolina was not receptive to sterilization, with families unwilling to have disabled children and other family members taken from their homes. When institutionalization was felt necessary, the early strategy for avoiding procreation by those deemed unfit was through segregation from society. South Carolina finally fell into step with most of the rest of the country as the second-to-last state to enact a sterilization law. It targeted the usual range of inmates from mental and penal institutions who were considered morally or mentally deficient or insane.

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