Humanities › Issues Forced Sterilization in the United States Eugenics and Forced Sterilization in the U.S. Share Flipboard Email Print Issues Civil Liberties Gun Laws Equal Rights Freedoms The U. S. Government U.S. Foreign Policy U.S. Liberal Politics U.S. Conservative Politics Women's Issues The Middle East Terrorism Race Relations Immigration Crime & Punishment Animal Rights Canadian Government View More By Tom Head Civil Liberties Expert Ph.D., Religion and Society, Edith Cowan University M.A., Humanities, California State University - Dominguez Hills B.A., Liberal Arts, Excelsior College Tom Head, Ph.D., is a historian specializing in the history of ethics, religion, and ideas. He has authored or co-authored 29 nonfiction books, including "Civil Liberties: A Beginner's Guide." our editorial process Tom Head Updated November 23, 2018 Although the practice is primarily associated with Nazi Germany, North Korea, and other oppressive regimes, the U.S. has had its share of forced sterilization laws that fit with the eugenic culture of the early 20th century. Here's a timeline of some of the more notable events from 1849 until the last sterilization was performed in 1981. 1849 Harry H. Laughlin/ Wikipedia Commons Gordon Lincecum, a famed Texas biologist and physician, proposed a bill mandating the eugenic sterilization of the mentally handicapped and others whose genes he deemed undesirable. Although the legislation was never sponsored or brought up for a vote, it represented the first serious attempt in U.S. history to use forced sterilization for eugenic purposes. 1897 Michigan's state legislature became the first in the country to pass a forced sterilization law, but it was ultimately vetoed by the governor. 1901 Legislators in Pennsylvania attempted to pass a eugenic forced sterilization law, but it stalled. 1907 Indiana became the first state in the country to successfully pass a mandatory forced sterilization law impacting the "feebleminded," a term used at the time to refer to the mentally handicapped. 1909 California and Washington passed mandatory sterilization laws. 1922 Harry Hamilton Laughlin, director of the Eugenics Research Office, proposed a federal mandatory sterilization law. Like Lincecum's proposal, it never really went anywhere. 1927 The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Buck v. Bell that laws mandating the sterilization of the mentally handicapped did not violate the Constitution. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes made an explicitly eugenic argument in writing for the majority: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind." 1936 Nazi propaganda defended Germany's forced sterilization program by citing the U.S. as an ally in the eugenic movement. World War II and the atrocities committed by the Nazi government would rapidly change U.S. attitudes towards eugenics. 1942 The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against an Oklahoma law targeting some felons for sterilization while excluding white-collar criminals. The plaintiff in the 1942 Skinner v. Oklahoma case was Jack T. Skinner, a chicken thief. The majority opinion, written by Justice William O. Douglas, rejected the broad eugenic mandate previously outlined in Buck v. Bell in 1927: "[S]trict scrutiny of the classification which a State makes in a sterilization law is essential, lest unwittingly, or otherwise, invidious discriminations are made against groups or types of individuals in violation of the constitutional guaranty of just and equal laws." 1970 The Nixon administration dramatically increased Medicaid-funded sterilization of low-income Americans, primarily those of color. While these sterilizations were voluntary as a matter of policy, anecdotal evidence later suggested that they were often involuntary as a matter of practice. Patients were frequently misinformed or left uninformed regarding the nature of the procedures that they'd agreed to undergo. 1979 A survey conducted by Family Planning Perspectives found that approximately 70 percent of American hospitals failed to adequately follow U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines regarding informed consent in cases of sterilization. 1981 Oregon performed the last legal forced sterilization in U.S. history. The Concept of Eugenics Merriam-Webster defines eugenics as "a science that tries to improve the human race by controlling which people become parents."