Forced Sterilization Is Legal in 30+ States, and It’s Time to Do Something About It

Kirsten Johnson was a disabled woman. She lived in Matteson, Illinois. Kirsten wanted to be a mother. She wanted to take care of a baby and watch her child grow.

Kirsten’s aunt Vera was her legal guardian. This means Vera could make decisions for Kirsten. Vera thought being a parent would be too hard for Kirsten. Vera thought Kirsten should be stopped from getting pregnant. Vera thought this would be for Kirsten’s own good.

So, Vera thought Kirsten should be sterilized. If you are sterilized, that means you can never have a baby. Vera thought Kirsten should be sterilized even though Kirsten did not want to be. So, Vera asked a judge to order Kirsten to be sterilized.

Some people are shocked that a judge can force someone to be sterilized. But that is what Illinois law allows. It says judges can order some disabled people to be sterilized. This is supposed to be for their own good.

Many other states have these laws too. Today, we released a report about these laws. The report says that 31 states plus Washington, D.C., allow courts to order disabled people to be sterilized.

We wrote the report with help from the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network. We wrote it in Plain Language. Plain Language is a style that is more accessible to many people. These include some people with intellectual disabilities.

Forced sterilization happens to people with intellectual disabilities more than anyone else. Everyone should get to understand information about issues that affect them. But sometimes nondisabled people talk about forced sterilization in a way that leaves out people with intellectual disabilities. Using Plain Language helps change that.

Forced sterilization laws assume that disabled people cannot or should not make decisions about their own bodies. This is wrong. Everyone should get the support they need to make decisions about their future.

Some people think forced sterilization laws help disabled people. They think it is better for disabled people if other people make the decision for them. But taking away this decision can hurt disabled people for the rest of their lives.

Kirsten’s story was unusual. Kirsten was able to get attention from the public. She got help from advocates in Illinois. In the end, she won and did not get sterilized. But there are many other people who did not get attention from the public. There are many people who had to get sterilized without anyone else knowing about it.

We need to come up with new laws. These laws should let disabled people make decisions about important things like whether to be sterilized. We need big changes, and disabled people can lead the way.