Senator Skinner Introduces SB 1190, the Forced Sterilization Compensation Act
Reflecting a recently released study in the American Journal of Public Health on the history of forced sterilizations in California and the disproportionate impact on women and Latinas, Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) has introduced legislation that would fund a state program to compensate survivors who were involuntarily sterilized during their institutionalization at a state mental hospital.
“We can never fully make up for California’s forced sterilizations—since so many who were hurt are no longer with us,” said Skinner. “But for those still alive, we can do better by finally providing restitution.”
SB 1190 requires California to identify and compensate survivors who were sterilized as a result of their being a ward of a state mental hospital, comparable to programs now established in both North Carolina and Virginia. Sterilization victims still alive would be allowed to submit claims; if the claimant passed away before authentication of the application, restitution would be provided to a designated beneficiary. Additionally, the bill requires commemorative plaques to be placed at the locations of state hospitals where sterilizations took place.
California’s “Eugenics” law was passed in 1909 and authorized sterilization surgery for people deemed to have a "mental disease, which may have been inherited." The law was not confined to mental illness as defined today, but rather was applied to people the state deemed as not ‘conforming to societal norms’ including people who were gay, poor, physically disabled, or didn't speak sufficient English. Records show that over 20,000 people were forcibly sterilized from the time the law passed until 1979 when it was repealed, more than any other state and roughly a third of all such sterilizations in the U.S. Most, but not all, of California’s forced sterilizations were done on people held in state mental hospitals, with the sterilization often required as a precondition for release.
While forced sterilization affected people of all genders and ethnicities, women and Latinas were especially impacted. Archived records show that Latinas were 59 percent more likely to be sterilized; and of the estimated 700 forcibly sterilized Californians who are still alive, 62 percent are women.
“For 70 years California sterilized individuals the State deemed unfit to have children,” said Skinner. “With this program, we can shed light on something that should never have happened, and offer some small solace to the people affected.”
Senator Nancy Skinner (@NancySkinnerCA) represents the 9th Senate District. She serves as Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary.