Heard of eugenics?
Eugenics is a study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable. The practice of eugenics is selective breeding to eliminate undesirable characteristics.
States in America began passing laws permitting eugenic sterilization in the early 20th century. It has been estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 people were permanently sterilized. These were federally funded sterilization programs offered in 32 states.
While some men were sterilized against their will, those laws were predominately used against women by way of forced hysterectomies. Coercion was also used. That’s a nice way of saying women were lied to by doctors and other were pressured into hysterectomies. Women were told they needed an appendectomy, or some other surgical procedure, but a hysterectomy would be performed instead. Some women were denied medical care for their living children, unless they agreed to a hysterectomy.
Eugenics became an accepted practice for protecting society from the undesirable offspring of those deemed unworthy of procreation.
So, who were the undesirables? American Eugenics targeted immigrants, people of color, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill, criminality, anyone deemed feebleminded, and people who suffered from medical conditions such as epilepsy. In some cases, teen rape victims were sterilized after giving birth to their rapist’s baby.
The American Eugenics Society promoted ideas of racial betterment and genetic education through public lectures, conferences, and exhibits at county and state fairs.
In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forced sterilization of the handicapped does not violate the U.S. Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes stated, “… three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The ruling was overturned in 1942, but not before thousands of people underwent forced sterilization.
Mississippi Appendectomies was a term given to coerced hysterectomies in Southern states. They were given to women of color and meant to control the African American population. A third of those forced hysterectomies were performed on girls under 18, even as young as 9.
It took only three years for the supreme court justices of 1927 to decide they were wrong. Undoubtedly, they looked into the future and saw their own extinction after three generations.
It took only 100 years for America to go from forcing hysterectomies to forcing pregnancies. If we’re celebrating the overturning of Roe v. Wade with a toast, make mine a double. A stout drink might calm my resentment for women being treated like breeding machines whose reproductive abilities should be monitored by superior minds.
Standard reporter Lisa Hobbs can be reached at 473-2191.