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Eugenics refers to the pseudoscientific theory that it is possible to improve a population through genetics. A key goal of early 20th century eugenicists was what they called “racial improvement,” although they labeled people with disabilities, poor people and LGBTQ people “unfit,” as well. Eugenists’ way of dealing with the so-called unfit was to sterilize them to prevent them from reproducing other people like them. Between 1907 and 1937, 32 U.S. states passed sterilization laws—something supported by the Supreme Court. In 1927, the Buck v. Bell decision affirmed states’ rights to forcibly sterilize people in the interest of “public welfare.” More than 60,000 people were sterilized. Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, tens of thousands of poor women and women of color were sterilized in medical facilities. But forced sterilization isn’t a thing of the distant past. Between 1997 and 2010, approximately 1,400 incarcerated women in California were sterilized on the basis of what the courts deemed bad parenting. To learn more about resistance to forced sterilization, see the work of the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab.

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