buck v bellThere are people like Margaret Sanger, Dr. Karan Singh and Rudolf Hess who believed that certain people had no right to reproduce, and they worked very hard to make that so. Whether done for population control or for reasons of eugenics, forced sterilization has a long and sordid history.

Arina O. Grossu at Aletetia has done a nice job of summing up this ugly practice. Whether it’s here in the U.S. or abroad, forcing people to be sterilized (often without their knowledge) is a crime against humanity. St. John Paul II spoke of this in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life):

The Pharaoh of old, haunted by the presence and increase of the children of Israel, submitted them to every kind of oppression and ordered that every male child born of the Hebrew women was to be killed (cf. Ex 1:7-22). Today not a few of the powerful of the earth act in the same way. They too are haunted by the current demographic growth, and fear that the most prolific and poorest peoples represent a threat for the well-being and peace of their own countries. Consequently, rather than wishing to face and solve these serious problems with respect for the dignity of individuals and families and for every person’s inviolable right to life, they prefer to promote and impose by whatever means a massive programme of birth control. Even the economic help which they would be ready to give is unjustly made conditional on the acceptance of an anti-birth policy.


Grossu begins by detailing forced sterilizations in the U.S.

In 1927, the Supreme Court ruled in Buck v. Bell that involuntarily sterilizing “feeble minded” inmates with “hereditary” mental illness did not violate constitutional due process or equal protection rights. Around this time, a growing eugenics movement in the United States led to 33 states adopting laws that resulted in more than 60,000 sterilizations. While Bell was never overruled, it has since been cast into serious doubt by later decisions. (In 1942 the Supreme Court held that imposing forced sterilization as punishment for a crime violated the Constitution.) But coercive sterilization on other grounds continued to be legal (and practiced) in a number of states until the 1970s.

Prior to 1964, there were an estimated 60,000 forced sterilizations in this country; one-third of them were in California. During the 1990s, courts were known to give women convicted of a crime a lesser sentence if they “agreed” to have Norplant implanted in them. The majority of these women were minorities, poor and undereducated.

The history of sterilization in China is monstrous, an extension of the one-child policy. However, the U.S. has supported sterilizations in the developing world for years:

A Harvard fellow in the School of Public Health did a four-country study analyzing forced sterilization in Latin America (El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua). He found that one quarter of the women reported having been pressured by healthcare providers to undergo sterilization.

Grant money from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been tied to forced and coercive sterilizations in India, China, Uzbekistan, and Peru among other places. Men and women are often required to be sterilized in exchange for basic needs, such as nutritional supplements for their children or clean water.

Grossu, the director for the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, sums up her article this way:

The human person is a unity of body and soul possessing the inherent dignity of a being created in God’s image and likeness and beloved by God to the point of his dying on the cross for our redemption. We are created male and female precisely so that we can cooperate with God in bringing forth new life and fulfill the deepest meaning of earthly existence, to give and to receive love that is unconditional, sacrificial, permanent and fruitful.

Forced sterilization and its many permutations directly attack human dignity and endanger the well-being of most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the world.

To remove the ability of an innocent person to make a wholesome choice for him- or herself is the deny their free will. Some freedoms may legitimately be curtailed due to criminal activity, but to take away the right to have children can never to justified.

Read “Coercive Sterilization: An On-Going Crime Against Humanity” at Aleteia.

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  • http://www.acton.org/ Elise Hilton

    Phil, thank you for your comment; I don’t agree with you, however. Once we start deciding that a drug-addicted mother is not fit to reproduce, then we open the floodgates. Evil is evil, wrong is wrong. sin is sin.