For years, African Americans have known that the U.S. government has deliberately used science and medicine to exploit, hurt, or experiment with people of color.
All one has to do is recall the early 1900s, where during the twilight of nights, African-American bodies were stolen for use as medical cadavers from the Freedman’s Cemetery Project in Dallas, Texas or the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Study where Black men were injected with the disease without knowledge.
Take it back to the ’60s, when the hospital stole Henrietta Lacks cervical cells and have profited from selling them for research around the world, leading to remarkable advancements in stem cell studies.
Or in 2017, only three years ago when a judge in Tennessee offered to reduce people’s sentences by 30-days if they “underwent a permanent birth control procedure: vasectomies for men, or a 4-year birth control implant (Nexplanon) for women.” The state coerced inmates into sterilization, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to say that such a gesture “violates the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy.”
State governments have long used sterilization as a method to control populations, targeting people of specific races and ethnicities, the poor, handicapped or diseased, and criminals. According to the Talk Poverty, that tens of thousands over the last 80 years have been impacted by such laws including 148 female inmates in California who had tubal ligations done to them without consent between 2006 and 2010. This study was done by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Recently, thanks to a whistleblower, news that immigrant women are receiving hysterectomies through coercion (and some without full knowledge of the procedures) while in the custody of President Trump’s ICE detention center in Georgia have made the headlines. Democrats are now pushing for a federal investigation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro, and Senators Corey Booker and Richard Blumenthal all are speaking out and blasting the Department of Homeland Security — hoping they will tell their inspector general to take action.
“If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint – including allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on vulnerable immigrant women – are a staggering abuse of human rights,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated. “This profoundly disturbing situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, from the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilizations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.”
They were alerted by Dawn Wooten, an African American nurse who is currently represented by the Government Accountability Project, saw everything with her own eyes. She believes that she was demoted because she asked too many questions about “testing detained immigrants for COVID-19 and warning officers when detained immigrants they are in contact with have tested positive.”
“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” Wooten told Project South. “It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”
Wooten claims to have spoken to five women who received hysterectomies between October and December 2019, saying that many “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.”
She singled out one doctor calling him “the uterus collector” because of the number of hysterectomies he performs. “Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out.”
Dr. Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, says that she will cooperate with the investigation and that to her knowledge only two women were referred for hysterectomies from the facility over the last two years.
Jamille Fields Allsbrook, director of women’s health and rights at the center, said in a statement, “The United States has a long and sordid history of reproductive coercion and forced sterilization, particularly targeting Black, Latina, and Native American women as well as women with disabilities and incarcerated women.”
She continued, “These racist, eugenicist practices are often sanctioned by U.S. law, which to this day allows for the sterilization of anyone deemed ‘unfit.’ “