Saturday, November 6, 2010

Next Great Idea #19

Create a documentary that highlights the forced sterilization of women of color.

  • Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, has the highest percentage of sterilized women in the entire world. (Source:
  • The U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark case Buck v. Bell (1927), ruled 8-1 to uphold the sterilization of a Virginia teen on the grounds she was a "deficient" mother. And in the ruling, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stated:
"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough." (Buck v. Bell, 1927)

(*The following information was gathered from "Sterilization of America: A Cautionary Tale" on the Center for Individual Freedom's website.)

In 1924, a teenager in Charlottesville, Virginia, Carrie Buck, was chosen as the first person to be sterilized under the state’s newly adopted eugenics law. Ms. Buck, whose mother resided in an asylum for the epileptic and feebleminded, was accused of having a child out of wedlock. She was diagnosed as promiscuous and the probable parent of "socially inadequate offspring."
A lawsuit challenging the sterilization was filed on Ms. Buck’s behalf. Harry Laughlin, having never met Ms. Buck, wrote a deposition condemning her and her 7-month old child, Vivian. Scientists from the ERO attended the trial to testify to Vivian’s "backwardness." In the end, the judge ruled in the state’s favor.

According to University of Virginia historian Paul Lombardo, evidence was later revealed that supports the claim that Carrie Buck’s child was not the result of promiscuity; Ms. Buck had been raped by the nephew of her foster parents. School records also indicate her daughter Vivian was a solid student and had made the honor roll at age 7. A year later, Vivian died of an intestinal illness.

May 2, 2002, marked the 75th anniversary of the shameful Buck v. Bell decision, which has never been overruled and was cited in a federal appeals case as recently as last year.7 The Court’s action in Buck led to the forced sterilization of more than 65,000 Americans by 1979.8

For more information about forced sterilization in the Americas, read Reproducing Patriarchy: Reproductive Rights Under Siege on