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Do Abortion Bans Pave the Way for Forced Sterilization?

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing regarding the state of reproductive rights in the United States.

The committee heard from witnesses about access to abortion, and the barriers to the procedure that disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

With newly appointed further right allies in the Supreme Court, lawmakers this year have introduced a number of abortion restrictions, some banning the procedure as early as six weeks gestation. These bans, also often referred to as “heartbeat bills,” would make abortion illegal at a point when most people don’t even know they are pregnant.

As the hearing moved from witness testimonies to questions from the committee, Democratic Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin shed light on the country’s dark history of forced sterilization.

Raskin wondered whether the U.S. government determining a person’s right to bodily autonomy could lead to a resurgence in what he called “authoritarian” policies with the intended goal of controlling certain populations.

“If the choice is not a woman’s to decide what happens with her pregnancy,” Raskin asked, “Could the the 30 governments, which had compulsory sterilization laws just in the last century […] Could authoritarian, right-wing governments throughout the country go to compulsory abortion laws for populations that they don’t like?”

Raskin’s concerns aren’t so far-fetched. The leaked conversations of white supremacist groups in just the last few years show members discussing how to recruit and organize young white men who oppose abortion rights. Far-rightists have also organized efforts to infiltrate local and state GOP offices.

Members of these groups tend to disagree on when and how to ban the procedure. In private chats, some argued in favor of forced abortion and forced sterilization for black people and people of color, as well as for people with mental illnesses and physical disabilities.

It wasn’t too long ago that state lawmakers controlled people’s reproduction.

In 1927, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of upholding a state’s right to forcibly sterilize people deemed “unfit” to have children, leading to 70,000 forced, state-mandated sterilizations. The far right still sees such policies as beneficial to their white supremacist and eugenicist agendas.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project told the committee that the court taking away people’s bodily autonomy is concerning. “That’s a very frightening prospect and it could lead to the very frightening prospects that you describe,” said Dalven.

“It’s certainly true that this country has a disgraceful history of those types of laws,” Dalven continued. “And we see that kind of thing happening even today with the administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families.”

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