A plan to compensate victims of forced sterilization in North Carolina stalled in the state Senate on Wednesday.
The North Carolina House had set aside $10 million in the state budget, so as to give victims of its eugenics program $50,000 each, but Senate Republicans rejected the proposal, The Raleigh News & Observer reports.
“You just can’t rewrite history. It was a sorry time in this country,” state Sen. Don East (R) told the Associated Press. “I’m so sorry it happened, but throwing money don’t change it, don’t make it go away. It still happened.”
An estimated 7,600 North Carolinians, both men and women, were sterilized under the authorization of the North Carolina Eugenics Board between 1929 and 1974, according to the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. Many of those people were minorities, poor, undereducated, institutionalized, sick or disabled. Between 1,500 and 2,000 victims of state sterilization are estimated to still be alive today. The News & Observer reports that 146 living victims have been verified so far.
“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,” Sen. Austin Allran (R) told the AP.
But victims of sterilization, and their advocates, were dismayed at the development.
“They have really devastated victims,” N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation executive director Charmaine Fuller Cooper told the News & Observer. “Even though they are 80-, 90-years-old, they remember it vividly. They had to reopen those old wounds. We have had people come forward and relive those memories and have had people tell their families and nothing happens. They’re angry and they have justification in how they feel.”
Cooper said the foundation’s office will close at the end of the month, when state funding will dry up.
Elaine Riddick, who was raped as a young girl and sterilized after giving birth, said she planned to file a class-action suit against the state.
“We’ve given North Carolina a chance to address their wrongs,” she said. “There is a class action suit as we speak.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), a big backer of the compensation plan, called the plan’s derailing a “personal failure.”
“It’s something that I’ll continue to work on,” he said.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com