Hospitals and institutions across the state have had a violent history of sterilizing Black, Indigenous, and Brown women, for more than half of century. This is what we call eugenics, and even after its state ban back in 1979, this harmful practice was still occurring.
Medical dishonesty is the lightest way to call it, with women as patients were told they had cysts or cancerous areas in their bodies that needed to be inspected and removed, with procedures that were later told to them they have moved their ovaries or had tied their tubes. They were no longer able to conceive and bear children.
With a state law that was passed in 2021, people sterilized without consent while incarcerated in California's women's prisons are eligible for at least $15,000. However, there's a deadline, and it's coming up being on December 31st of this year to apply for funding. According to state data, only around 500 survivors have applied compared to the thousands affected by sterilization. Even less have actually gotten that compensation after applying.
These reparations are also a rare chance for these survivors unfortunately.
“Finding people, getting them to come forward and reaching people is challenging,” said Dr. Jennifer James, an associate professor at UCSF who has studied involuntary sterilization. “Systems and medical records were not quite what they are today as they were in 1920. Records weren't always kept or weren't kept well, and the whereabouts of those records are unclear.”
The California Victim Compensation Board received 510 applications as of Oct. 25, according to data provided by the state. Only 108 were approved to receive the funding.
$4.5 million was set aside for survivors in California, but this would only suffice to around 600 surviros when there's around 20,000 that endured hysterectomies and other sterilization procedures in California since the early 1900s.
In order to apply, survivors and their descendants must complete an application by email or physical mail. According to KQED, “Survivors must have been alive at the start of the compensation program for their descendants to benefit.” According to James, only three survivors from 1909-1979 have applied and have been offered funding.
“That's really devastating,” she said. “There were tens of thousands of people affected. A lot of those people are no longer alive and aren't eligible, but we're really trying to spread the word.”
Those who can prove they were involuntarily sterilized can receive $15,000 and an extra $20,000 for those that have applications approved by October 2024. Any remaining money will revert to the general fund, according to the compensation board.
Mentioned in the KQED article, “Despite the uncertainty of coming forward for many applicants, James stressed that anyone who thinks they may qualify should apply, even those who may have unknowingly consented to the procedure.”
“The medical record is the word of the person perpetuating the harm,” she said. “Many people have been approved who did sign a consent form because they stated that they didn't know what they were consenting to, no one reviewed it with them, and they thought they were having a different procedure.”