The state of North Carolina delayed for years compensation of women who were illegally sterilized, and now that compensation checks are finally being sent out, many sterilized women –mostly African-American, poor, or disabled– still won’t get paid.
NPR reported the story of Debra Blackmon, a severely retarded woman who was sterilized at the age of 14 in 1972. Two social workers came to Blackmon’s home and eventually convinced her parents to authorize a “minimally invasive” surgery for the girl. That was a lie.
“They were telling my grandparents that the surgery was going to be minimally invasive. They told them it would be a tubal ligation. And they [wound] up doing a full abdominal hysterectomy — on a 14-year-old,” Blackmon’s niece, Latoya Adams, told NPR.
Although Adams investigated her aunt’s case and “came back with a mother lode: a court order, names of social workers and the entire procedure, outlined from pre-op to discharge,” 58 year old Blackmon was still denied compensation:
The problem lies in a technicality.
The new compensation law says, to be eligible, operations have to have occurred under the state’s Eugenics Board. As it turns out, the board very likely wasn’t aware of all the sterilizations taking place. Judges and social service workers were greenlighting sterilizations, as well.
“That’s kind of become the fundamental problem here,” says Bob Bollinger, an attorney representing Blackmon and a few other people who say they are victims.
“You have some old dusty filing cabinet in Raleigh that’s full of Eugenics Board paperwork from decades ago, but yet you’ve got all these people who got sterilized involuntarily, where it was instigated at the local level and their paperwork didn’t wind up being preserved in the eugenics files in Raleigh — if it was ever there to begin with,” he says.
Blackmon is one of 7,000 victims of the eugenics program.