Migrant and Immigrant Human Rights: Reproductive Justice Toolkit

Core 3: Anti-racist Feminist Coalition Teams for Migrant and Immigrant Human Rights

Kaitlyn Chin, Kesi Jackson, Tess Gibbs

Purpose Statement: This toolkit focuses on the reproductive and birth rights of migrants and immigrants in detainment, including in detention centers, prisons, and ICE custody. In learning about the recent Project South whistleblower case of non-consenting hysterectomies and reproductive surgeries performed on ICE detainees, we hoped to further our own understandings of reproductive violence and oppression. We have compiled resources on the history of the eugenics movement in the United States, organizations and scholars supporting reproductive justice and contemporary legislation in an attempt to be in dialogue about the role of reproductive coercion within structural racism and white supremacy. This work is entrenched in the lives, bodies and families of women of color, people with disabilities and undocumented communities. We hope to provide a platform to build coalitional alliances to stand in solidarity with and educate those within and outside of Scripps College.

Questions that guided our research:

Power:

  • How is agency politicized? How has institutional power legitimized oppression?
  • What are the systems and policies that permit medical discrimination, experimentation and violence?
  • How can we address state violence as it has been inherited generationally?

Consent: 

  • How does the pathologization of a person’s bodily autonomy contribute to reproductive violence and oppression?
  • How do our notions of free and willing consent change when an incarcerated person’s entire days are spent in a coercive, threatening place?
  • How do we collectively enforce ideologies around surrendering bodily autonomy? What enables these laws and beliefs to be perpetuated culturally?

Reformation/Abolition:

  • What is the power of legislative reform in protecting and ensuring the rights of incarcerated women, and incarcerated people’s reproductive rights? Are there limits to legislative reform? 
  • How has the legitimization of state violence through the justice system created a pathology for violence culturally?
  • What is the role of accountability and atonement within reparations?
  • How do we envision an abolitionist future?

Relevant Vocabulary/Terms (Definitions from linked sources):

  • Reproductive Justice: “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” (SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective)
  • Reproductive Coercion: “behavior that interferes with the autonomous decision-making of a [person], with regards to reproductive health. It may take the form of birth control sabotage, pregnancy coercion, or controlling the outcome of a pregnancy.” Coercion is not limited to coming from partners, but also from institutions that wield power over a person’s autonomy, such as carceral institutions. (Reproductive Coercion: A Systematic Review)
  • Eugenics: “the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations (as by sterilization) to improve the population’s genetic composition” (Merriam-Webster); “Developed largely by Sir Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, eugenics was increasingly discredited as unscientific and racially biased during the 20th century, especially after the adoption of its doctrines by the Nazis in order to justify their treatment of Jews, disabled people, and other minority groups” (Oxford Languages
  • Sterilization: “a process or act that renders an individual incapable of sexual reproduction; forced sterilization occurs when a person is sterilized after expressly refusing the procedure, without their knowledge or is not given an opportunity to provide consent” (Human Rights Watch)
  • Prison industrial complex (PIC): “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems” (Critical Resistance)
  • Reparations: “the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged” (Oxford Languages); “a system of redress for egregious injustices” (Brookings Institution)

History of Eugenics in the U.S.

Interview with Carly Myers, Staff Attorney with Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF):

What is the role of eugenics in the contemporary sterilizations? (Especially after the eugenics laws were repealed in 1979?)

  • Eugenics is the belief that some people are more fit to reproduce and be citizens than others. Eugenics ideology has been used in California and across the world to perpetuate oppressive beliefs and practices regarding people of color, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, poor people, and LGTBQI+ people, among others. While California’s eugenics laws were repealed in 1979, the ideology persists and manifests in other forms. Prior to 1979, forced sterilizations were performed under the color of law in state institutions; afterwards, coerced sterilizations continued in prisons and, most recently, immigrant detention centers. While these contemporary sterilizations were not performed pursuant to a specific state law, they were performed without proper consents and overwhelmingly on people with historically marginalized characteristics. Eugenics ideology is still alive and well; it just operates more in the shadows.

Do you feel that eugenics policy and ideologies of the past influence legislative decisions in relation to contemporary sterilizations?

  • The forced sterilization of any individual is a crime, it is unconstitutional, and it violates principles of international human rights. We are thankful that the State of California recognized the wrongfulness of its eugenics sterilizations by issuing a formal apology in 2003. However, an apology is not enough. As demonstrated by the involuntary sterilization of hundreds of incarcerated women as recently as 2010, without broader public awareness and a material acknowledgment of its wrongdoings, eugenics ideologies will continue to pollute our government’s policies and practices. This is why the Reparations for Survivors of Forced Sterilization Bill is critical; and why the State’s failure to pass the bill the past three years is telling.

Interview with Cynthia Chandler, Director of Bay Area Legal Incubator:

What is the power of legislative reform in protecting and ensuring the rights of incarcerated women, and incarcerated people’s reproductive rights?

  • In California, we must work towards creating advocacy between people inside and outside of prisons. There should be mandatory reporting for the number of sterilizations performed, training for incarcerated people to recognize sterilization abuse (how to spot it, rights to prevent it and education around the new law), and data freely available to outside allies to mobilize “policing” of the actions of the state. Policy is only effective if implemented in a way that builds momentum and pressure to create change.
  • There is a political resurrection of eugenics (forming a more perfect race of people). In other words, there is a movement growing to create a population that does not require state aid and to create a wealthier population.
    • This is underlined by a white supremacist motivation: straight, white, able-bodied, dominant class supremacy. We are also seeing a rise of neo-facism in California and we are seeing it most dramatically in women’s prisons and ICE detention centers. That rise is less visible in men’s detention centers. 
    • There is not one doctor or facility to blame for all sterilization abuses; they are spread across the state of California and the United States, which only illustrates the systemic nature of the sterilizations.

Background Information about the History of Eugenics: in relation to California’s forced sterilizations and eugenics ideologies

https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/CA/CA.html– This article connects the United States’s historical and contemporary practice of forced sterilizations, rooted in eugenics and targeting women of color. It asserts that eugenicist practices show up in many places in our legal and judicial systems. For example, in 2017, a Tennessee judge allowed imprisoned people reduced sentences if they “volunteered” to begin contraceptives or be sterilized. Although we mostly see the focus on women who are targeted by coerced sterilization, the article also mentions the men targeted in the early 20th century for being ““confirmed criminals,” “idiots,” “imbeciles” and “rapists.”” The Center for Investigative Reporting reported that at some prisons where sterilizations were performed, nurses targeted patients based on their perceived recidivism

https://blog.ucsusa.org/paula-garcia/ices-forced-sterilizations-are-a-crime-against-humanity – This blog post includes many references and links to different instances in which marginalized groups have been targeted by “anti-scientific discrimination,” or eugenics medicine. It includes the 1914 Model Eugenical Sterilization Law, used to codify sterilization of women in the U.S. and Puerto Rico; the U.S. Public Health Service’s 1940s practice of infecting Guatemalan immigrants with STDs to be used a guinea pigs for experimental treatments; how Haitian immigrants currently make up 44% of ICE detention camps and receive much higher bails; the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, with which “close to 25 percent of Native American women of childbearing age were sterilized”; and the U.S. Public Health Service’s Tuskeegee experiments from 1932-72, in which Black men were unknowingly used to examine the effects of untreated syphilis. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5888070/ – This article connects the United States’s historical and contemporary practice of forced sterilizations, rooted in eugenics and targeting women of color. It asserts that eugenicist practices show up in many places in our legal and judicial systems. For example, in 2017, a Tennessee judge allowed imprisoned people reduced sentences if they “volunteered” to begin contraceptives or be sterilized. Although we mostly see the focus on women who are targeted by coerced sterilization, the article also mentions the men targeted in the early 20th century for being ““confirmed criminals,” “idiots,” “imbeciles” and “rapists.”” The Center for Investigative Reporting reported that at some prisons where sterilizations were performed, nurses targeted patients based on their perceived recidivism

https://dredf.org/2018/04/04/california-introduces-eugenics-sterilization-compensation-bill/ – (on compensation under state eugenics laws) This article from the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (who we have contacted) details the requirements and procedures for obtaining compensation as a sterilized victim. Through The Sterilization Compensation Bill, introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner, California would be the third state in the nation to provide compensation for survivors under state eugenics laws. California officials apologize for this historical wrong of eugenic sterilization programs in 2003 as the state accounts for a third of all sterilizations in the nation in the 20th century.

Current Legislation & Ways to Get Involved

  • Bill to Establish the Forced or Involuntary Sterilization Compensation Program
  • DREDF Testimony and supporting documentation for the bill 
  • Petition for Sterilization Survivor Reparations (recently updated to target the Governor)
  • 2013 State Audit
  • Volunteer with, donate available funds to, and highlight the work of the following organizations

Organizations working for Reproductive Justice

National Organizations:

  • Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund:“a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities and parents who have children with disabilities” that seeks “To advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development.”
  • National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights: “comprised of grassroots and advocacy organizations nationwide. We defend and promote equality for all immigrant women and their families living and working in the United States. We integrate human rights principles into our work and believe that immigrant rights are women’s rights. NCIWR advocates at the national, state and local levels for comprehensive immigration reform, fair and non-discriminatory implementation of our immigration and enforcement policies, and reproductive and economic justice for immigrant women.”
  • National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice: Grassroots movement to build “Latina/x power to fight for the fundamental human right to reproductive health, dignity, and justice. We center Latina/x voices, mobilize our communities, transform the cultural narrative, and drive policy change.”
  • Project South: “a Southern-based leadership development organization that creates spaces for movement building. We work with communities pushed forward by the struggle– to strengthen leadership and to provide popular political and economic education for personal and social transformation.”
  • SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective: “a Southern-based, national membership organization; our purpose is to build an effective network of individuals and organizations to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities.”
  •  INCITE! organizes from the framework that locates women of color as living in the dangerous intersections of sexism and racism, as well as other oppressions. INCITE! is a network of radical feminists of color organizing to end state violence and violence in our homes and communities.

State Level Organizations: 

  • California Coaliton for Women Prisoners: “a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC). We see the struggle for racial and gender justice as central to dismantling the PIC and we prioritize the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement.”
  • California Latinas for Reproductive Justice: “a statewide organization committed to honoring the experiences of Latinas/xs to uphold our dignity, our bodies, sexuality, and families. We build Latinas’/xs’ power and cultivate leadership through community education, policy advocacy, and community-informed research to achieve reproductive justice.”
  • Minnesota Doula Project: Focuses on “provid[ing] pregnancy and parent support for incarcerated parents” and “work[s] with those serving sentences at Minnesota’s only women’s state prison and those held in county correctional facilities throughout Minnesota.”

Local Organizations:

Film: Belly of the Beast (2020): “When an unlikely duo discovers a pattern of illegal sterilizations in women’s prisons, they wage a near impossible battle against the Department of Corrections. Filmed over seven years with extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, BELLY OF THE BEAST exposes modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons.”The Guardian article on Belly of the Beast and California’s Dark History of Forced Sterilizations

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