RICHMOND, VA, February 20, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The state of Virginia forcibly sterilized an estimated 7,500 people between 1924 and 1979, many of them without their knowledge or consent. A handful of the surviving victims have come forward, with the help of a Christian attorney, seeking compensation because the state denied them the opportunity to have a family.
But a Republican-controlled subcommittee in the House of Delegates decided the survivors – including an 86-year-old former Marine – will have to wait another year.
Delegate Bob Marshall, a pro-life conservative who is running for the U.S. House, and liberal Democrat Patrick Hope introduced a bill to create a $10 million fund that would award $50,000 to each survivor who can prove he – or she – was sterilized by the state.
It would also allow immediate family of deceased victims to see state records about their relatives. Those records are presently sealed.
A subcommittee voted to kill the bill, deferring it until at least 2015. The two lawmakers had introduced a similar bill last year.
“It’s another stalling tactic by the delegates who love the purse more than liberty, justice, individual rights and the Constitution,” said Mark Bold, president and CEO of the Christian Law Institute.
Some 15 survivors had come forward to the Christian Law Institute, which says it has fully vetted 10 of them.
One of them is Lewis Reynolds, an 86-year-old veteran who was sterilized as a teenager because he had epilepsy – a fact he says he did not learn until he joined the armed forces. The move left him heartbroken.
“I always wanted children. My wife and I would cry because I could not give her children,” he said. “I sometimes still will cry when I am alone. I wanted children very much.”
Sadie and Janet Ingram, now 69 and 66-years-old respectively, say the state sterilized them without their knowledge and left them to suffer the consequences for decades.
“I think it was wrong. They took away our life,” they said.
The state passed S.B. 281, the Sterilization Act, in 1924, which authorized “the operation of sterilization” on any patient afflicted with insanity, “idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy.”
During the next 55 years, the state sterilized 7,325 people. Although the bill was passed on the same day as the Racial Integrity Act – March 20, 1924 – most of the victims of state-sponsored sterilization would be white. Some 22 percent of those sterilized were African-American; 62 percent were women.
The criteria for sterilization was a perceived lack of intelligence or desirable genes, regardless of race or ethnicity, a stigma that wounds the survivors to this day.
“It is hard for me to think that they thought I was worthless,” Lewis said.
As decades wore on and eugenics fell out of favor, fewer people went under the knife. In 1979, the law was repealed. Gov. Mark Warner formally apologized for the state's population control measures in 2002, calling them “a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved.”
But Marshall, Hope, and others – including the Virginia Catholic Conference – say that's not enough.
“In the 21st century we must seek to redress this as best we can,” Marshall said. “Many of the victims of this policy of involuntary sterilization are still alive and suffering the effects.”
“Under eminent domain, government is required to compensate citizens for taking away property; how much more should it compensate for taking away the ability to have a family?” he asked.
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Virginia Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, hoped the sum would make lawmakers think twice about damning someone to a life of childlessness.
“The idea that the government can deem some worthy of life and others not should be revolting to every American,” she said. “And while this small amount of money cannot begin to undo the wrong, it is one way to hold a government accountable for its actions and, hopefully, to prevent anything like this from happening again.”
Last July North Carolina lawmakers approved $10 million in compensation for victims of that state's eugenics program, which was in effect between 1929 and 1974. Virginia lawmakers seem determined not to follow their lead by providing money for survivors.
“I think they’re hoping they'll die off,” Bold said.
Bold, a graduate of Liberty University School of Law, said the story will only end when victims receive justice. “If those delegates in opposition think that we or these fighting victims are going step aside, they are mistaken,” he said.
Although the measure was swept aside, Marshall promised to introduce victim compensation Thursday as an amendment to the state budget.
“It’s now time to write the final chapter in this shameful and repugnant part of Virginia’s history,” Delegate Hope said. “We need to set an example and take full responsibility for our actions so that the healing process can finally begin.”
The Sterilization Victims Hotline is 1-(888)-643-7497.