A plan by Democratic North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue to compensate women who were forcibly sterilized by the state was struck down by Republican legislators on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
Perdue created a $10 million fund with the intent of paying each sterilized woman $50,000. The plan passed the North Carolina House, but was struck down in the Senate, where GOP lawmakers refused to even consider it. Republicans declined to pay the women on grounds that the state can't afford it during such tight economic times, and because it might encourage other groups -- such as the descendants of slaves -- to seek compensation from the government.
Democratic lawmaker Earline Parmon told the BBC, "I'm appalled that the North Carolina Senate today took no action to compensate the victims that we as a state robbed of their rights to reproduce and to have children. At this point, I've lost all hope."
Between the years of 1929 and 1974, said the AP, an estimated 7,600 people who the state deemed "feeble-minded" or otherwise unfit were sterilized. Many were black women living in poverty.
Republican state Senator Austin Allran justified the Senate's decision by claiming that the payouts would set a bad precedent. "If you could lay the issue to rest, it might be one thing. But I'm not so sure it would lay the issue at rest because if you start compensating people who have been 'victimized' by past history, I don't know where that would end."
A citizens' group, the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation has held public hearings over the last year to hear testimony from the surviving women who were affected by the program. 77-year-old Willis Lynch, who was sterilized at the age of 14, told her story at a meeting last year.
"That's the only thing I hated about being operated on, 'cause I couldn't have kids," she said, "It's always been in the back of my mind."
Perdue wrote the $10 million fund into the state budget with the backing of Republican Speaker of the House Rep. Thom Tillis, under whose guidance the compensation plan passed the majority Republican House. Not a single Senate Republican, however, would back the plan.
"You just can't rewrite history. It was a sorry time in this country," said Republican Sen. Don East, "I'm so sorry it happened, but throwing money don't change it, don't make it go away. It still happened."
Under the sterilization program, people as young as 10 years old were stripped of their reproductive abilities for a wide range of reasons, some as minor as promiscuity or failing to get along with school classmates. Officials would obtain consent from family members or the victims themselves, who often did not realize what they were signing or what was being done to them.
Elaine Riddick was sterilized after she was raped and forced to bear her rapist's child at 14. Now a resident of Atlanta, Riddick said on Wednesday, "I have given North Carolina a chance to justify what they had wronged. These people here don't care about these victims. ... I will die before I let them get away with this."
(image via YouTube screen capture)