More than 200 women, most of them Latinas, were sterilized between 1968 and 1974 by a Los Angeles County medical center, a little-known eugenics incident that took place in postwar United States and continued for years despite lawsuits and protests.
That’s right, women in L.A. County in modern times were sterilized by trained and licensed doctors during a period of trendy fears of a brown “population boom. ” Many involved are still alive.
One such case pitted a group of Latinas known as the Madigral 10 against L.A. county’s lead obstetrician, Dr. James Quilligan, who reportedly approved of the sterilizations on 10 women because “poor minority women in L.A. County were having too many babies. ” The women lost the case with Judge Jesse Curtis ruling the doctors had the women’s “best interest ” in mind.
The women’s struggle for justice is the subject of a 2015 PBS documentary No Mas Bebes.
On Tuesday, before a group of the Madrigal 10 and their family members, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to formally apologize to the victims, and announced support for a bill for reparations currently being considered by the California Assembly.
Madigral 10 plaintiff Melvina Hernandez, who spoke briefly in Spanish, said she was there to witness justice being served. “It wasn’t right what they did, ” she said fighting back tears. “That why I want this all to be over. ”
Emerson Orozco, the 16-year-old granddaughter of Madigral 10 member Helena Orozco, told the supervisors she was happy for the formal apology but angry that the history was hidden for so long.
“In the past, nothing was ever discussed of my abuela’s achievement, ” Orozco said Tuesday. “Hearing what took place angered me then and it angers me now about the occurrence that took place without being discussed for so long. Tears have been shed for the courage shown by these 10 women. ”
The incidents at LA County-USC Medical Center add to a broader California history of systematic sterilization. Starting in 1909, state sponsored clinics operating under a California law sought to prevent “unfit ” people with “defective traits ” from having babies. Latinas, poor people, and people with disabilities disproportionately fell into this “unfit ” category.
During the 1968-1974 period, L.A. County did not have a program of forced sterilizations, but some patients were tricked into signing consent forms to be sterilized at the county hospital operating under that same logic of population control of “unfit ” groups.
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