Opinion | There is a connection between abortion access and eugenics

By Livia LaMarca, Senior Staff Columnist

As a person with a uterus and a political science student, I am deeply ingrained in the dialogue about my reproductive rights. I’m from Illinois, right outside Chicago — a very, very blue state, so there was nothing I truly ever had to worry about in regards to my reproductive rights. Because I go to school here in Pennsylvania, however, I’ve become increasingly worried and am watching the upcoming elections very closely. My reproductive rights here in the state of Pennsylvania are at stake.

However, the truth is that I am a white, straight, able-bodied woman. At the end of the day, I have far less to worry about than someone who isn’t.

It seems odd to say that there is a link between eugenics and loss of abortion access — one is to keep people from having children, and the other forces people to have children even if they don’t want them or face health risks if carried to term. The idea for both is essentially the same — the government controlling the bodily autonomy of an individual. While many people like to think that eugenics is a thing of the past, you might find it surprising how deeply ingrained it is in U.S. law.

The 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell ruled that Carrie Buck, an inmate in Virginia who was diagnosed with a “feeble mind,” was allowed to be sterilized against her will for “the health of the patient and the welfare of society.” And since then, 31 states have laws allowing forced sterilization, with a law in Iowa regarding the topic passed as recently as 2019. Of these states, a guardianship is only required by half the states and 17 of the 31 allow the forced sterilization of disabled minors.

Throughout the 20th century, more than 60,000 individuals were sterilized in order to create a “better,” more Eurocentric society here in America. It was believed at the time that Anglo-Saxons and Nordics should be the only people allowed to reproduce because it was assumed that they naturally had higher IQs than others. Because of this belief, Black people, Indigenous people, immigrants, disabled people and people in lower economic classes were the primary targets of forced sterilization. To put into perspective just how discriminatory this practice was, the American eugenics program was a primary inspiration for Nazi Germany. That is how heinous our eugenics program truly was.

So, how does the 2022 court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade play into all of this? In an article from the Washington Post that primarily inspired this column, the connection is clear.

For people who are disabled or under conservatorships, there has become a prejudice in which people do not believe that they can make decisions for themselves — especially decisions regarding their bodily autonomy such as choosing whether or not to have children. Doctors will encourage disabled patients to undergo hysterectomies without considering whether or not their patient even desires children in the first place. But now, unfortunately, in a post-Roe America, many states heavily restrict abortions, making them inaccessible, especially for people with disabilities. Along with this, Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas wants to completely reevaluate whether or not there is a right to birth control as well. Now that these forms of birth control and pregnancy termination doctors used to exercise control over their patients with disabilities are becoming much more restrictive, doctors now have an incentive to forcibly sterilize the patients they deem unfit to parent.

Legal experts say the language found in the Dobbs decision is eerily similar to the language found in the Buck decision. Whether you agree that individuals with uteruses should have the right to an abortion or not, the Dobbs case and the Buck case can both be boiled down to an issue about bodily autonomy. Carrie Buck was forcibly sterilized after losing her case arguing that her right to due process and equal representation was taken from her. Roe v. Wade was overturned after the current SCOTUS justices came to the conclusion that abortion is not protected anywhere within the constitution. In both cases, SCOTUS decided that the right to one’s own body isn’t important enough to protect and that it isn’t protected by the constitution. This reasoning is why thousands of women were forcibly sterilized and are still technically allowed to be in 31 states. And now, in 2022, this same reasoning is echoed and women all over the United States are now forced to have children they don’t want, shouldn’t have and which may pose life-threatening risks.

The victims of forced sterilization in the 20th century also see the connection. Elaine Riddick, a victim and abortion opposer interviewed for the Washington Post article, sees the connection as well. As a woman who lost the ability to control her body due to government intervention, she doesn’t want to see anybody else lose this same access. She said during her interview, “I never had the chance to say yes or no.”

When Judge Thomas quoted Buck v. Bell in the Indiana case against abortion access, he was wrong. He argued that abortions and birth control lead way to eugenics ideology, when it is in fact the opposite is true. Losing access to abortion is a gateway to forced sterilizations to take place in high numbers once again. This would most predominantly affect disabled people and those under conservatorships. 

Everyone deserves the right to make decisions over their own bodies and decide when and if they want to have children. I’m not here to convince anybody that abortion isn’t morally wrong or that a fetus isn’t a living human. I am here to convince you that the ramifications of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are far reaching and affect all strata and all aspects of life. The right to bodily autonomy, especially the autonomy of individuals with uteruses, is getting stripped away. The right to bodily autonomy lies at the forefront of this connection and the roots of Dobbs and Buck.

Livia LaMarca mostly writes about American politics and pop culture. Write to her at [email protected].