National Catholic Register


How Far Have We Come?

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 1/12/12 at 9:00 AM


North Carolina is likely to become the first state to compensate victims of forced sterilization programs.  According to National Public Radio:

From 1929 to 1974, more than 7,600 people in North Carolina were surgically rendered unable to reproduce under state laws and practices that singled out epileptics and others considered mentally defective. Many were poor, black women deemed unfit to be parents.

Other victims of the program were sterilized for reasons that are unthinkable today:

People as young as 10 were sterilized, in some cases for not getting along with schoolmates or for being promiscuous. Although officials obtained consent from patients or their guardians, many did not comprehend what they were signing.

Such eugenics programs were common throughout the United States, and many states have apologized to their victims; but North Carolina will be the first to offer monetary compensation, if the proposed legislation passes.

Compensation “sends a clear message that we in North Carolina are people who pay for our mistakes and that we do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights,” said panel chairwoman Dr. Laura Gerald, a pediatrician.

The NPR story informs us that

While taking away someone’s ability to have children sounds barbaric today, eugenics programs gained popularity in the U.S. and other countries in the early 1900s, promoted as a means of raising the health and intellectual level of the human race.

We can rejoice that such programs have been eradicated from our country.  Like North Carolina, we’ve learned from our mistakes, and no longer will we tolerate such “barbaric” programs that “trample on basic human rights.”  So enlightened have we become, in fact, that we’re allowing a fourteen-year-old girl in Corpus Christi, TX, to keep her unborn child.

For another two weeks.

Because she took out a restraining order on her parents.

According to Courthouse News Service the pregnant girl does not want an abortion, but her parents scheduled one against her will, and family members have intimidated and physically assaulted her in order to force her to keep her appointment.  The girl’s attorney, Stephen Casey, says

[T]he girl accused a cousin of assaulting her by grabbing her by the neck, hitting her across the jaw and threatening to beat her if she did not get an abortion.

According to the Courthouse News Service,

One of her cousins described the teen as mentally unstable and said she was not capable of making the decision to keep her baby.

So who is capable of making that decision?  Live Action, one of only a few news organizations reporting on this story, says,

A state district judge appointed an attorney for the teen and extended the restraining order until Jan. 19, when a hearing will determine whether the order will remain in place for the duration of the girl’s pregnancy.

So now the court will, in essence, decide who is more capable of making the decision:  the mother herself, or a family who is accused of intimidating and brutalizing a pregnant teenager.

Let’s reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation.  Have we advanced beyond that barbaric age when the state can decide who may and may not reproduce?

One victim of North Carolina’s eugenics program was fourteen when she was sterilized against her will.  She says:

I was a victim twice: once by the rapist and one by the state of North Carolina. Normally, if you commit a crime, you pay for it. They committed the biggest crime. They committed a crime against God. They committed a crime against humanity,” she said, wiping tears from her face. “And this is all I can do is just accept what they said today and go on with my life.

The girl in Texas, who now awaits the court’s decision, was already victimized once:  the age of consent in Texas is 17.  The state has the chance to prevent a second crime against her.  Will we again “tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights?”  Will this teenager be the victim of only one crime, or two?