Many folks who write to this paper refer to their pro-life beliefs. However, I do not see any mention in pro-life discussion of the racist and ableist legacy of forced sterilization in this country. Black, Latina and Native women, as well as women with disabilities, were the targets of forced sterilization efforts throughout the early 1900s. 

Eugenics was such a popular concept at the time that laws legalizing forced sterilization were enacted throughout the US. This led to the sterilization of around 60,000 people whose genetic traits (i.e. their race or hereditary medical conditions) were considered undesirable. In fact, later experiments in sterilization conducted at Nazi concentration camps were influenced by early American sterilization practices. 

These inhumane and racist laws were not repealed until the 1970s, when they were found to be discriminatory, primarily affecting women of color and people with disabilities. Fannie Lou Hamer was sterilized without knowledge or consent during an operation for uterine fibroids in 1961. She became a civil rights activist in her home state of Mississippi after this violating experience. The practice of performing hysterectomies during other surgeries on Black women was so common at the time it was referred to as a “Mississippi appendectomy.”

Now, we are hearing reports of forced sterilizations on refugees in ICE detention centers. The past reports of family separation, inhumane conditions, and indefinite detention by ICE are unacceptable. But forced sterilization is an act of genocide.

To quote Ms. Hamer, “Mississippi is America’s problem. Because if America wanted to do something about what has been going on in Mississippi it could have stopped by now.” The same is true of these ICE detention centers.

It is incumbent upon anyone who respects human life to call for the closure of these modern-day concentration camps, as well as the reunification of separated families. We must insist on a thorough investigation into these allegations of forced sterilization and other human rights abuses. Those responsible need to be held accountable and reparations must be made to the victims of these horrific genocidal acts.

Alana Cuellar

St. Croix Falls

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