In 1924 Virginia passed the “Eugenical Sterilization Act” which permitted those “afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy” to be sterilized by the state. Between 1924 and 1979, the state sterilized 7,325 people and some believe the number to be even higher. The surviving victims are now in their 70’s and 80’s and include Lewis Reynolds, age 86. He spent over 30 years in the Marine corp defending the country that prevented him from having children. When testifying before the House of Delegates he cried when thinking about his inability to have children. He wanted a family more than anything in his life. More on Reynolds’ story, his misdiagnosis, and sterilization here and here.
To help right this terrible wrong, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), a candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 10th district, has fought hard for HB74, a bill he introduced with cosponsor Patrick Hope (D-Arlington). Marshall’s bill would compensate the victims of sterilization with a payment of $50,000. Delegate Marshall said,
“In the 21st century we must seek to redress this as best we can,” Marshall said. “Many of the victims of this policy of involuntary sterilization are still alive and suffering the effects.”
“Under eminent domain, government is required to compensate citizens for taking away property; how much more should it compensate for taking away the ability to have a family?” he asked.
Virginia Cobb, President of Family Foundation of Virginia said,
“The idea that the government can deem some worthy of life and others not should be revolting to every American,” she said. “And while this small amount of money cannot begin to undo the wrong, it is one way to hold a government accountable for its actions and, hopefully, to prevent anything like this from happening again.”
Unfortunately Delegate Marshall’s bill did not pass. Marshall, who has always been a fighter for the rights of victims and our society’s most vulnerable, will introduce the bill again next year. While Virginia sterilized citizens against their will over a longer period of time than any other state, other states had similar laws. North Carolina also sterilized people from 1929 to 1974. Last year North Carolina estimated 1,800 of those victims are still alive. North Carolina passed a law very similar to Marshall’s bill, allocating $10 million in their budget so each victim of state sterilization could be compensated with $50.000. It seems like so little money for such a grievous wrong, but it’s better than Virginia who so far as given nothing to the victims of state sterilization. We hope that changes very soon. We know that Bob Marshall won’t stop fighting for these victims.
UPDATE 2/24/14 I learned tonight that Barbara Comstock, Delegate Marshall’s opponent in the 10th district, voted against this bill. Very disappointing.