Credit: Photo by Klaus Nielsen from Pexels

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) released a troubling report exposing the law that allows women in Washington, D.C. to be permanently sterilized against their will. “Forced Sterilization of Disabled People in the United States” chronicles the laws in 31 states, and right here in the District, that remove disabled women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies, instead leaving decisions to judges. 

Among the report’s findings:

  • States have continued to pass forced sterilization laws well into recent years, with the most recent laws being passed in 2019 in Iowa and Nevada;
  • Out of the states that allow forced sterilization, about half require the person being sterilized to be under guardianship, while the remaining states allow for forced sterilization of both people who are and are not under guardianship;
  • 17 states allow forced sterilizations on disabled children, 3 states explicitly prohibit it, and the remaining 11 states and Washington, D.C. do not have specific language on minors.

While these laws primarily affect people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, women who have disabilities related to mental health are also targeted. The study does point out that men can also be forced to be sterilized under these laws, but overwhelmingly it is women who are subject to having their fertility eliminated.

The report’s author, Ma’ayan Anafi is also senior counsel for health equity and justice at NWLC. She says, “Forced sterilization laws are not an aberration – they are part of a larger, horrifying system that prevents disabled people from making basic decisions about their lives, their families, and their futures.” Anafi continued “These laws are part of a long history of state-sanctioned sterilizations, and are rooted in false, paternalistic assumptions about disabled people. No judge, guardian, or politician should have the right to take away anyone’s fundamental right to decide whether to have children.”

Lydia X. Z. Brown is Director of Policy, Advocacy, and External Affairs at the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. Her organization contributed research to the study. She explained, “Far too many disabled people have survived forced sterilization which is part of a long, sordid history of forcibly sterilizing disproportionate numbers of Black, Native, Mexican/Chicanx, Japanese and Borikén/Puerto Rican women. Unfortunately, not enough people know that forced sterilization is still widespread and completely legal.”

Read the summary, or the full report here.

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