No Justice for Victims of Forced Sterilizations

Hopes for a Reproductive Justice Victory in North Carolina Dashed

Hopes that victims of forced sterilization in North Carolina between 1929 and 1974 would receive just compensation for their suffering were dashed yesterday by conservatives in the state Senate. Sadly, conservatives eliminated the compensation fund already passed by the state House of Representatives.

The reversal negated the work of a taskforce commissioned by North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) in 2011—the moral and historical importance of which we noted earlier this year. Gov. Perdue’s taskforce recommended compensation for as many as 2,000 North Carolinians who were forcibly sterilized over those five decades. Following a formal apology by the state, the taskforce concluded that each victim should receive $50,000 as compensation for the human rights violation that the state perpetrated, and it recommended the creation of a compensation fund to the state legislature for this purpose.

From a reproductive justice perspective, it was heartening to see a government entity taking the right to parent seriously and attempting to redress its own past wrongs. If passed, North Carolina would have been the first state to compensate forced sterilization victims. The compensation package received the full support of Gov. Perdue and passed the state House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority. As a result, it was added to the state House’s proposed budget.

Some amount of justice for the victims—mostly people of color, survivors of rape, and people with real or purported disabilities—seemed achievable. But then it fell afoul of two excuses in the Senate. The two rationales were that the state does not have the money to pay for the $10 million program, and that the program would open the floodgates to reparations demands by descendants of slaves.

Now, advocates and supportive lawmakers predict that it is no longer realistic to expect that the fund will be added back in before the legislature votes on the final budget this week. As a result, North Carolina’s Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation announced that it would begin shutting down due to the loss of state funding.

While it is encouraging to know that advocates have not given up and that the fund might reappear in next year’s budget negotiations, this development is a heartbreaking disappointment. Victims of forced sterilization endure a lifelong human rights violation that can never be fully remedied, but the compensation fund represented the potential for a healing process. Yesterday’s news reminds us all that the fight for reproductive justice requires constant vigilance and perseverance.

Lucy Panza is a Policy Analyst in the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress.