Issue Position: State Government Reform - Justice for Sterilization Victims
"[T]he forced sterilization of all those women without their permission - it's one of the most heinous things I have ever heard of [I]t just makes my blood boil "
- Bev Perdue at NAACP Debate (January 26, 2008)
In December 2002, Governor Mike Easley issued a public apology for North Carolina's forced sterilization program.
That program began in 1929 and continued until 1974. State law endorsed sterilization of people who had epilepsy, sickness, "feeblemindedness" and other disabilities. However in practice it was often used against young women who were considered "promiscuous" (even if they were victims of rape) or somehow "not worthy" of having any more children. More than 7,600 people were sterilized under the program - third highest of any state in the nation. While some may have requested sterilization, many were forced against their will. Some were as young as 14 years old when subjected to the procedure.
In issuing the state's apology, Governor Easley directed the Department of Health and Human Services to create a task force to explore the history of the program, ensure that it would never be repeated, and make recommendations on how to assist survivors. The task force proceedings put a human face on this tragic episode in North Carolina and United States history. They featured testimony from such survivors as Elaine Riddick Jessie and Nial Cox Ramirez.
The task force recommended creating a nonprofit foundation to identify and serve as a support mechanism for survivors and their descendants. It also recommended that survivors receive medical benefits, counseling and educational opportunities, as well as some form of financial compensation for survivors and their descendants.
One of Bev Perdue's top priorities as North Carolina's next Governor will be addressing the wrongs that were done to these women. She will take the task force recommendations and turn them into action.
As one of her first executive orders, Bev will authorize the creation of the Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation and name a panel of three retired and highly respected North Carolina judges to guide its development.
These respected jurists will develop a charter for the Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. The charter will establish guidelines for identifying and assisting survivors and their descendants. The panel will address such questions as how the foundation should navigate legal issues such as the proper use of medical records to establish survivor status without violating medical confidentiality laws. Initial "seed" money for the Foundation in the range of $500,000 will be provided to hire staff.
The panel of retired judges will also develop a framework for providing just compensation to survivors and descendants. Governor Perdue will incorporate this framework into legislation and make it one of her top agenda items to enact into law. Bev will work directly on this legislation with such leaders on this issue as Representative Larry Womble, Senator Larry Shaw, and other members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Bev will also authorize the panel of retired judges to oversee the arbitration of legitimate survivor and descendant claims for compensation.
As North Carolina's next Governor, Bev Perdue will be committed to putting the ugly historical chapter of forced sterilization in our state behind us by bringing justice to those families who were so tragically victimized by it.