The Long and Sordid History of Forced Sterilization Programs

The whistleblower nurse in Georgia told a grim story that’s been a part of American history for decades

Dr. Cynthia R. Greenlee


Gynecological mirror in the hand of a doctor on a blue background.
Photo: Olivka888/Getty Images

Charmaine Fuller Cooper was outraged — but not surprised — when she heard recent allegations that a Georgia detention center performed medically questionable hysterectomies on undocumented immigrants without their consent.

On September 14, advocacy groups filed a complaint that accused the Irwin County Detention Center, which houses immigrants for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), of subjecting some immigrants to unnecessary hysterectomies and denying critical services, such as diabetic care and coronavirus testing.

“I was horrified because, in the back of my mind, I saw all the children in the detention camps (because that’s what I’m calling them on the border),” Cooper says. “And I was concerned because, going back into the history, we have petitions for children as young as five years old to be sterilized in North Carolina.”

Cooper served as executive director for the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation from 2010 until 2012. In that position, she was empowered to research, find, and offer up to $50,000 in compensation to North Carolinians who were forcibly…