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PITTS: Eugenics alive and well in California

  • *** FILE *** The entrance to the California Institution for Women, a state prison 37 miles east of Los Angeles, seen April 18, 1971. The prison was built in 1933 to hold about 2,800 female inmates, but currently houses 4,705 male inmates, according to the Department of Corrections. It employs 2,001 personnel. All of the state's prisons were locked down as a precaution Thursday April 3, 2008 after two inmates attacked four officers at the California Correctional Institution, a corrections official said. Two sergeants and an officer were treated for lacerations, stab and puncture wounds, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A fourth officer, a woman, suffered unknown injuries and was also taken to a hospital. (AP Photo/George Brich, FILE)

As Christina Cordero remembers it, the doctor would not take no for an answer.

"As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it. He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn't do it."

The "it" is tubal ligation. He wanted to sterilize her.

Cordero, who is now 34, was serving time for auto theft at a California prison. She finally said yes, a decision she regrets seven years later.

"I wish I would have never had it done."

We are indebted to the Center for Investigative Reporting, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated content provider, for the preceding account. It is contained in a troubling report, released last week, documenting that the California prison system sterilized as many as 250 women from 1997 to 2010, in violation of state rules. Women who had the procedure say they were pressured to do so.

The state reportedly paid $147,000 for this service. Dr. James Henrich, who operated on Cordero, says it's a bargain. "Over a 10-year period," he told CIR, "that isn't a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more."

Maybe you think that makes perfect sense. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine someone saying the same thing on Fox "News" next week. After all, character assassination of the less fortunate has become commonplace. A certain wealthy presidential candidate famously described them as the 47 percent of us who are irredeemable.

But maybe you know enough of history to hear the awful parallel embedded in Henrich's calculation. You see, this is not the first time Americans have had the bright idea of breeding out undesirables. Indeed, laws mandating forced sterilization were all the rage in America in the early 20th century. Even the Nazis were impressed. They modeled their statutes on ours.

The idea was to keep the nation's gene pool from being polluted — and its economy burdened — by the "feeble-minded," the habitually criminal, and by families that produced generations of prostitution, promiscuity, alcoholism, poverty or disability. Some sought to do this through immigration restrictions designed to bar the racially inferior, others argued for killing mentally and physically defective children, and still others favored forced sterilization.


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