State Sponsored Eugenics

Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf were 12 and 14 living in Montgomery, Alabama. They were the youngest of six children living in poverty. Their father was unable to work due to an automobile accident. The family received support from the local African American community.

Both girls were being administered birth control shots because their social worker was concerned about boys hanging around their residence. Neither parent-approved. The drug, being administered via the shot, was not fully tested for its side effects.

In June 1973, social workers transported the girls to a local hospital to receive shots. Their mother was asked to sign a consent form. Since she could neither read nor write, she placed an X on the consent form.

The hospital visit was a ruse. What actually happened was that both girls were sterilized. When the girls left the hospital their father noticed the surgical scar. When he confronted the social workers they admitted the girls had been sterilized without his consent.

The Relf family joined a class action lawsuit against the federal government. The suit was filed against the federal agencies that were funding the operations: Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) and the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). The agency heads were found to be guilty of failing to protect the Constitutional rights of those in the class action.

Just imagine the justification that any federal agency might use to force such an action on women. It possibly began with the now-discredited eugenics movement. But what possible moral authority could be used to justify such actions? And just imagine if this practice were in place today. Actually, it is taking place in our prison systems, in plea deals, and in immigration detainment facilities. Eugenics, although discredited, remains a belief by those who believe in the superiority of people like themselves.

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“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”  – Oliver Wendell Holmes

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