Reparations for Survivors of Forced Sterilization in California

Policy Win
Eliminating Racial & Economic Disparities

NIRH partnered with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) in 2021 to fight for reparations for the hundreds of survivors of state-sponsored forced sterilization. Through a grassroots campaign, wide coalition support, and intense lobbying, this successful campaign resulted in $7.5 million in California’s state budget.

Between 2006 and 2010, a California state audit revealed that at least 144 people, the majority of whom identify as Black and Latinx, were illegally sterilized during labor and delivery while in custody in women’s prisons. Coerced sterilization of people in women’s prisons is the subject of the New York Times critic’s pick feature-length documentary, Belly of the Beast. The filmmakers uncovered nearly 1,400 questionable sterilizations during labor or unrelated abdominal surgeries between 1997 and 2013, and the film helped garner nearly 20,000 signatures on a petition to Governor Newsom demanding reparations for California forced sterilization survivors.

We must recognize and reckon with the eugenicist impact of imprisonment on generations of Black and Brown people. NIRH believes that budget allocations are one way that states and cities can take responsibility for the deep harms committed by the state upon these communities.

Originally authored as the Forced Sterilization Compensation Program Bill by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo and co-sponsored by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ),  the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and Back to the Basics, the language of the bill was added to the state budget and signed by Governor Newsom in July 2021. The compensation will be distributed to survivors of California state-sponsored sterilization between 1909 and 1979 and survivors of involuntary sterilizations in women’s state prisons after 1979.

This budget allocation is of national significance: California is now only the third state in the nation to provide monetary compensation to survivors who were sterilized under state eugenics laws and the first state to both provide notification of coerced sterilization and reparations to survivors who were sterilized while incarcerated in its state women’s prisons. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, incarcerated people, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty have been disproportionately targeted for sterilizations.

With NIRH’s support, CCWP ran an educational campaign with their communities of currently and formerly incarcerated people to let them know about how to apply for reparations. This budget item will provide compensation, recognition, and notification to survivors of coercive reproductive procedures would provide some tangible redress for the terrible harm that has been done to the people impacted and would advance reproductive justice in California. 

“The California Coalition for Women Prisoners hails this groundbreaking reparations program for incarcerated women and trans people who suffered involuntary sterilization while in California prisons. We hope this victory paves the way for other BIPOC communities to achieve additional forms of reparations in response to centuries of state sanctioned violence and abuse.”

Aminah Elster, CCWP’s Campaign and Policy Coordinator

“To this day, many survivors who were sterilized while in prison still don’t know that their reproductive capacities were stolen from them. With the launch of reparations, we will finally receive justice that we have fought so long for and the healing process can truly begin. It’s time.”

Sterilization survivor, film participant, and founder of Back to the Basics Kelli Dillon