Eugenics reparations: California poised to pay up to $25,000 to people who were deemed ‘unfit to have children’ and sterilized

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A 1974 protest against forced sterilization in Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times
A 1974 protest against forced sterilization in Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times

California is poised to approve reparations of up to $25,000 to some of the thousands of people — some as young as 13 — who were sterilized decades ago because the government deemed them unfit to have children.

The payments will make California at least the third state — following Virginia and North Carolina — to compensate victims of the so-called eugenics movement that peaked in the 1930s. Supporters of the movement believed sterilizing people with mental illnesses, physical disabilities and other traits they deemed undesirable would improve the human race.

While California sterilized more than 20,000 people before its law was repealed in 1979, only a few hundred are still alive. The state has set aside $7.5 million for the reparations program, part of its $262.6 billion operating budget that is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

California’s proposal is unique because it also would pay women the state coerced to get sterilized while they were in prison, some as recently as 2010.

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“We must address and face our horrific history,” said Lorena Garcia Zermeño, policy and communications coordinator for the advocacy group California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. “This isn’t something that just happened in the past.”

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