Buck vs. Bell—Eugenics Fun, WTF America

Back in 1927, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had authority to sterilize anyone deemed unfit, including the intellectually disabled “for the protection and health of the state.” Seen as an endorsement of removing defective stock from the human gene pool, health professionals, legal authorities and groups across the country began wiping out the chances for “unseemly” people to procreate behind the shield of the greater good.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described Carrie Buck as a “probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring.” The Court accepted, without evidence, that Carrie and her mother were promiscuous and that therefore, the three generations of Bucks shared the genetic trait of feeblemindedness. Stop and read that again. Let it sink in. The Supreme Court decided – without evidence – that three generations of a family were feebleminded because they were told Carrie and her mother had casual sex. Not only that, but that it was in the country’s best interest to keep people like Carrie and her mother from having children of their own regardless of what those women wanted to say on the matter.  

Jump five decades ahead. It is reported that poor women from various minority groups – Natives, Latinos, Puerto Ricans and African Americans – are being sterilized without consent. Due to questions from reporters and health officials, a study by the U.S. General Accounting Office finds that four of the 12 Indian Health Service regions sterilized 3,406 American Indian women without their permission between 1973 and 1976. The GAO finds that 36 women under age 21 had been forcibly sterilized during this period despite a court-ordered moratorium on sterilizations of women younger than 21. Two years earlier, an independent study by Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri, Choctaw/Cherokee, found that one in four American Indian women had been sterilized without her consent. Pinkerton-Uri’s research indicated that the Indian Health Service had “singled out full-blooded Indian women for sterilization procedures.”

Thank you IHS for scarring our Native population for generations. How many potential tribal members did we lose? How much did our generation of Indigenous hearts shrink? How many tribal members did you frighten away from modern medicine completely? How much money did you save?

Most eugenics studies/practices had been suspended after WWII thanks to the Nazi regime. Nothing like seeing barbaric practices of another colonizer and genocidal maniac to leave a bad taste in your mouth, right America? Apparently, the taste is not bad enough to rethink another bite. Sterilization practices continued in federal and state institutions, though the outrage from reported stories forced change in policy for many offices.  

2013 showed forced sterilization in the news, this time in women prison populations. Again, studies show a high number of coerced or forced sterilizations in a population group with little power to retaliate. Almost a full century since Carrie Buck had been silenced and sterilized against her wishes.

The PBS documentary “No Más Bebés” follows the story of US activists against reproductive injustice in the 1970s. Check it out to learn more. In the meantime, remember that Buck vs. Bell is still not overturned. With the war against reproductive rights at such a fevered pitch, is it any surprise?