LA County USC Medical Center

The old L.A. County-USC Medical Center looms over the new hospital.

Boyle Heights -- Forced and coerced sterilizations happened in Los Angeles - long ago, but still within living memory, and in a county hospital. Between 1968 and 1974, more than 200 women were sterilized at the LAC+USC Medical Center. Consent, if given, may have been uninformed, or made under duress, say the women and their advocates.

This is the history that L.A. County Supervisors face as they look at possibly providing reparations to the surviving women. On Tuesday, the board approved a proposal by Chair Hilda L. Solis to explore the feasibility of reparations.  

Two questions have lingered over the years about the sterilizations: Was consent given freely and knowledgeably? Were Latina women disproportionately targeted?

The women, a large number who were primarily Spanish speakers, were sterilized after going to the hospital to give birth, some through emergency C-Sections. Some said they thought they were signing forms to approve the C-Sections or the use of painkillers -- not to have their tubes tied.  Many of the women struggled with depression for years afterward, with one woman saying she felt like crying anytime someone would ask, "Why didn't you have any more children?"

With information provided by one of the hospital's own doctors, 10 of the women filed an unsuccessful class-action, civil rights lawsuit in 1975 that said the hospital was sterilizing Spanish-speaking mothers who delivered their babies via cesarean section, according to The New York Times. The Times noted that society's views on "consent" have changed since the 1970s, back when doctors might have proposed sterilization while women were in the throes of labor pains.

If the county forced sterilizations, however - and specifically targeted Latinas - it wasn't alone. This practice at LAC+USC happened concurrently with the tail-end of a statewide sterilization program - the Asexualization Act --  which ran from 1909 to 1979 at state facilities, according the Associated Press.

The state of California now seems likely to approve reparations of up to $25,000 for the forced sterilization patients who are still alive, according to the Associated Press. But that would only apply to surviving patients from state facilities, not those impacted under the aegis of L.A. County - including LAC+USC Medical Center.

The sterilizations performed at the hospital had faded from public memory until the 2015 release of the PBS documentary, "No Más Bebés," in which some of the mothers returned to the old hospital's now dormant maternity wards.

In 2018, the county supervisors apologized to the women who were sterilized and approved placing a plaque expressing regret over the practice on the hospital grounds. But that's not enough, says Solis. 

"Now, we are taking actionable steps to provide support, including potential financial reparations for the harm inflicted upon these women, who were predominantly Latinx, at LAC+USC," said Solis in a statement. "Although no amount of money will ever alleviate the pain these women endured, we can at the very least take meaningful steps towards providing financial assistance that will help them in their everyday lives. It is the right and just thing to do."

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Assistant Editor

Barry Lank has worked for newspapers on the East and West Coasts, and earned an MS in journalism from Columbia University. He formerly produced "National Lampoon Presents: The Final Edition." A native of San Gabriel Valley, he now lives in East Hollywood.

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