June 4, 2024

Forced sterilization is legal in 30+ US states

Most Americans believe that forced sterilization is a human rights abuse that ended decades ago. But a report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has released a report which shows that more than 30 states have laws which permit the sterilisation of disabled women.

Forced Sterilization of Disabled People in the United States,” reveals that:

  • 31 states plus Washington, D.C., have laws explicitly allowing forced sterilization;
  • States have continued to pass forced sterilization laws well into recent years, with the most recent laws being passed in 2019 in Iowa and Nevada;
  • Out of the states that allow forced sterilization, about half require the person being sterilized to be under guardianship, while the remaining states allow for forced sterilization of both people who are and are not under guardianship;
  • 17 states allow forced sterilizations on disabled children, 3 states explicitly prohibit it, and the remaining 11 states and Washington, D.C. do not have specific language on minors.

These laws affect mostly people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. They also affect people with disabilities related to mental health. Men can also be sterilized under these laws, but the laws mostly target women.

“Forced sterilization laws are not an aberration – they are part of a larger, horrifying system that prevents disabled people from making basic decisions about their lives, their families, and their futures,” said Ma’ayan Anafi, the author of the report. “These laws are part of a long history of state-sanctioned sterilizations, and are rooted in false, paternalistic assumptions about disabled people. No judge, guardian, or politician should have the right to take away anyone’s fundamental right to decide whether to have children. It’s long overdue to fully transform this ruthless system.”

“Far too many disabled people have survived forced sterilization,” said Lydia X. Z. Brown, of the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network, which contributed to the report. This “is part of a long, sordid history of forcibly sterilizing disproportionate numbers of Black, Native, Mexican/Chicanx, Japanese and Borikén/Puerto Rican women. Unfortunately, not enough people know that forced sterilization is still widespread and completely legal.”