Bill seeking reparations for involuntary, forced sterilizations survivors closer to becoming CA law

Anabel Munoz Image
Friday, May 21, 2021
CA bill seeks reparations for survivors of forced sterilizations
California is facing its dark history of forced or involuntary sterilizations. A bill seeking reparations for survivors took an important step this week.

Over the course of more than a century, thousands of people in California have been forcibly, coercively, or involuntarily sterilized.

A bill seeking reparations for California survivors of forced or involuntary sterilizations took one step further this week than it has in previous iterations, working its way through the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

"I was 24 years old when I had discovered that something was wrong," said Kelli Dillon, one of hundreds of known survivors of sterilization while in prison.

"I felt like somebody made the choice that I was not worthy to have the ability to give birth to a child or to be worthy of motherhood, and I was hurt by that," she added.

Dillon is featured in the documentary "Belly of the Beast" alongside the attorney who helped her fight for her medical records, uncover what a surgeon did to her. Together, they found more cases and took their findings to California's state Capitol.

"The law prohibits sterilizing people in prison for the purpose of birth control, but they were doing it anyway," said attorney Cynthia Chandler in the film.

Dillon and others advocated for a 2014 law that reaffirmed the prohibition of sterilization for the purpose of birth control in county jails and state prisons.

There's also a years-long effort to compensate people like Dylan and many more across generations, dating back to California's eugenics laws.

"This is my third year doing this bill, and I will continue to do so until we get it done and we get it right," said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo.

Carrillo's bill, AB 1007 seeks reparations for two groups of survivors, including those who were sterilized from 1909-1979 when California's eugenics laws were repealed.

For the first time, the bill is on its way to the Assembly floor.

According to research from the University of Michigan, women and Latinos were disproportionately sterilized. The median age was 17, and as young as 12 years old.

"People with disabilities, Black people, Latinx people, poor people, indigenous communities have been primarily targeted for forced sterilizations," said Lorena Garcia Zermeño of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, one of the organizations in the coalition supporting the bill.

In the '60s and '70s, at least 240 women -- largely Mexican immigrants-- who gave birth at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center were sterilized, often not informed that they would be, coerced, or misled into signing forms they could not read.

"They could be my neighbor; they could be related to somebody that I know," said Carrillo. "We're talking about a lived experience of immigrant women from East Los Angeles," she said.

Carrillo's proposal also seeks reparations for those who were involuntarily sterilized after 1979 in California prisons -- some may still not know it.

"Part of the bill is ensuring a notification program that will notify people that this is something that was that was done," said Garcia Zermeño.

Dillon filed a lawsuit that was not successful.

The L.A. native is now a founder and executive director of a community empowerment nonprofit, and continues advocating for reproductive rights, urging people to watch the documentary and learn more about the history of eugenics in California and the country.

"How it has played a role in our nation since the early 1900s," said Dillon.

She also highlighted the stories of women who reported medical abuse while in federal custody and immigration detention, including forced hysterectomies.

"It's the same things that the women in the state of California as well as myself have shared verbatim," she said about their testimonies.

In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis issued a formal apology for California's eugenic sterilization program. But no such apology has been issued to those who were illegally sterilized in prisons after 1979.

"We have yet to get an apology. We have yet to be acknowledged. The state has to be made accountable," Dillon said in the documentary.

North Carolina and Virginia have passed similar bills. If AB 1007 does not pass, Carrillo said there's still a chance to secure the $7.5 million to fund the program through a budget request she also submitted. The money would be distributed among living survivors.