Sterilization Survivors To Get Apology From Oregon Governor
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 15, 2002
SALEM, OREGON- Governor John Kitzhaber announced Friday that he will formally apologize on behalf of the state for the forced sterilizations of more than 2,750 Oregonians during the last century.
The apology is scheduled for December 2. Several survivors have been invited to attend the special ceremony. Kitzhaber is also expected to proclaim December 10 as Human Rights Day across the state.
Kitzhaber would be the second U.S. governor to issue such an apology. On May 2 of this year, Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner formally apologized for the forced sterilizations of 8,000 Virginians, most of whom were people with disabilities housed in the state's institutions.
A coalition of Oregon advocacy groups, including those representing people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses, have been pushing for the apology since July of this year.
Most of those who underwent operations so that they could not have children did so because they had no choice under the state's sterilizations laws that were in effect from 1917 to 1983. Many had to go through the surgery before they could be allowed to leave institutions, state hospitals, or, in some cases, prison.
Thirty states and two Canadian provinces had similar laws on the books during much of the 20th century. The practice was popular under the Eugenics Movement, based on the idea that society could be improved by special breeding. The "science" behind eugenics was disproved in the later half of the century, but not until more than 60,000 North Americans had experienced castrations, vasectomies, hysterectomies or tubal ligations. In addition, Adolph Hitler used the American sterilization laws as blueprints for his Nazi plan under which hundreds of thousands of Europeans were forcibly -- and legally -- sterilized.
As a state senator in 1983, Kitzhaber was on the committee that wrote language to throw out Oregon's 1917 sterilization law.
"It knocked me backward," said Kenneth Newman, who was sterilized at Fairview Training Center when he was 15 years of age, of Kitzhaber's announcement. "I just didn't know if he was going to do it."
Oregonians Get Apology For Sterilizations (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)
For information on the American Eugenics Movement, and the mandatory sterilization laws, visit the historical archives hosted by the DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Click on the essay entitled "Sterilization Laws":