Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, tells Inside the Issues how her new legislation reckons with California’s long history of sterilizing women without their consent.

What You Need To Know

  • Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo is pushing for legislation to compensate women who were previously sterilized against their will

  • California has sterilized more than 20,000 people over the last century

  • Up until 2010, incarcerated women held in California prisons were still being sterilized without their consent

  • Carrillo wants to pass a bill that would create a fund to compensate every woman who was involuntarily sterilized in the state

The assemblywoman represents the state’s 51st Assembly District, which encompasses parts of Echo Park, Chinatown, and East Los Angeles. She says her home city and state have been responsible for thousands of forced sterilizations over the last century.

“There were hundreds of women at L.A. County hospitals in the late 1960s, mostly Latina, mostly immigrant, mostly Spanish speakers that were unknowingly sterilized, and come to find out, in 2010 the state prison system was also sterilizing women who they deemed unfit,” Carrillo said.

In 1909, California allowed medical professionals at state homes and hospitals to sterilize patients they determined weren’t mentally stable enough for reproduction. Research shows California went on to sterilize more than 20,000 people, becoming the state with the most aggressive sterilization program in the county.

The state’s eugenics law was later repealed in 1979, but sterilizations continued to occur within California’s women’s prisons up until 2010. A state audit revealed 144 incarcerated women were sterilized without their consent. 

Carrillo says she was horrified to learn about these women who completed their time in prison only to discover they could never start a family of their own once they had the chance to integrate back into society.

“These are true stories of women who have nothing to do with partisan politics,” she said. “It has to do with the way we see humanity, the way that we see women’s bodies, the way that the state was making decisions on women’s bodies and how this story is a California story that has yet to be told to the level that it needs to be told.”

The assemblywoman is now pushing for legislation to compensate women who were previously sterilized against their will in California. She’s trying to establish a forced or involuntary sterilization compensation program that would be administered by the California Victims Compensation Board. If passed, the bill would create a fund to compensate every woman who was previously involuntarily sterilized in California.

Over the last two years, Carrillo has written similar legislation to compensate victims of California’s previous eugenics laws, but they were stalled in committee despite receiving bipartisan support.

However, Carrillo says she will continue to push forward on new legislation to help women who have been sterilized against their will.

“We have to wrestle with what we do moving forward and there is no amount of compensation that could ever restore a woman's ability to be a mother, but we do have to do what’s right,” Carrillo said. “The state needs to do right by the wrongs that it has committed and needs to see these atrocities for what they were.”

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