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California aims to make amends to victims of forced or involuntary sterilizations

The state's practice of forced sterilizations stretches back as far as 1909, and was replicated across many states, as well as Nazi Germany during WWII.

SAN DIEGO — It is a shameful part of California's past that the state is now trying to make amends for.

Beginning more than a century ago, and as recently as 2013, Californians were forcibly or involuntarily sterilized in state-run facilities, including hospitals and prisons. 

Those victims who are still alive could now be eligible for thousands of dollars in reparations. 


"I felt robbed, I felt hurt, I felt violated. I felt cheated and I was angry," said Moonlight Pulido, one of thousands of women sterilized against their will in the state of California.

While in prison in 2005, serving a sentence for attempted murder, a doctor told her she needed two growths removed which could be cancerous.

"I never questioned the doctor as to having an agenda or anything because he worked for the state," Pulido told CBS 8. "Everybody who works for the state is supposed to be upstanding."

She admitted that she signed a consent form without reading it. When she awoke from the surgery, she was covered in sweat, and asked the nurse what had happened.

"She said, 'You had a full hysterectomy,' and I said, 'Excuse me? No!,'" Pulido said.

Confused and angry, Pulido said she later confronted the doctor.

"And he said, 'Look.... you go home, you guys do the 'wild thing,' you get pregnant, you end up coming back to prison, and us taxpayers are forced to take care of your unwanted children,'" she recalled.

"He left me speechless... completely speechless," Pulido added. "What right did he have to play God? That wasn't his right to take that from me."

Especially painful, she said, because of her cultural identity.

"I'm Native American, and Creator gave us women the only gift to give life. Nobody else can do that! That is a gift, and he took that gift from me," she explained.

Pulido, who was released from prison last year. is now one of dozens of women who have received an initial payment of $15,000 from the state of California as a form of reparations.

"We are finally doing something positive for the survivors, at least here at home in California," said State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, who has been fighting for this reparations program for years. 

This statewide practice of forced sterilizations stretches back as far as 1909, according to Carrillo.

"This happened in California," she added. "It was replicated across many states across the country and it was even replicated by Adolf Hitler during World War II to really commit genocide."

Reparations program

This $4.5 million reparations program covers two groups of primarily women, thousands of whom were forcibly sterilized in state-run hospitals as part of California's eugenics program from 1909 to 1979, carried out to prevent some patients with either mental illness or physical disabilities from having children. 

This program also covers a smaller group, including Moonlight Pulido, who were unknowingly sterilized in state prisons.

In 2014, state lawmakers banned sterilizations in prison for birth control purposes while still permitting other medically necessary procedures.

"Our outreach is continuing," said Vincent Walker, a deputy executive officer for the California Victim Compensation Board, which is overseeing this reparations program. 

While many of the victims from the original eugenics program have already died, the state is launching an ad campaign to try to track down the roughly 600 victims who are believed to still be alive, many of whom could be in nursing homes.

"It is a real specific demographic that we are trying to reach, so there have been some challenges with really reaching them," Walker told CBS 8. 

Another challenge has been being able to verify the claims, which requires documentation. So far, about 50 applicants have been approved for these funds.

"We know that we can't change the past, but what we can do at this point moving forward is to provide some kind of relief and some kind of reparations for some of the terrible things that happened in the past," Walker added.  

"Because at the end of the day we are recognizing something horrible and unjust  that happened to them," Carrillo said, "and we want to make sure that they are seen and recognized." 

Any remaining funds from this $4.5 million reparations program will be divided equally among those deemed eligible.

"It kind of makes me feel like I am less of a woman now," said Moonlight Pulido. While she appreciates this money as she is beginning to rebuild her life after prison, she said no amount can compensate her loss.   

"You can't put a price tag on a blessing," she added. "You can't put a price on something that was taken from you. I don't care how hard you work for it: you can never get it back."

The application deadline for this reparations program is December 31. For more information, click here. 

WATCH RELATED: California Reparations Task Force holds meeting in San Diego (Jan. 2023).



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