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Margaret Owens McCoy of Ashe County recently received a letter verifying that she was a victim
of the state's forced sterilization program.
Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2012-07-02 10:32:14
Last modified: 2012-07-20 16:45:57

Eugenics victims verified, not compensated

by Anna Oakes

The North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation office was scheduled to close on Saturday, marking the end of a two-year effort to compensate victims who were forcibly sterilized by the state of North Carolina.

Victims will not receive compensation payments, however, because the General Assembly did not approve eugenics compensation program funding as part of the 2012-13 fiscal year budget adjustment bill approved on June 21.

In a news conference last week, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis called the legislature's omission of victim compensation "a personal failure" and said he would continue working on the issue.

The state's forced sterilization (eugenics) program lasted from 1929 to 1974. An estimated 7,600 North Carolinians — including women and men who were poor, undereducated, institutionalized, sick and disabled — were sterilized under the authority of the N.C. Eugenics Board.

Gov. Bev Perdue established the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation in 2010 to provide justice and compensate victims who were forcibly sterilized by the state of North Carolina.

In January, the statewide Eugenics Compensation Task Force recommended that $50,000 payments be made to the living victims of the procedure, estimated at that time to number between 1,500 and 2,000 people. 

The task force also recommended the provision of mental health services for victims, as well as the continuation and expansion of the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation and funding for a traveling eugenics exhibit, permanent exhibit memorializing victims and ongoing oral history project.

The verification of victims began earlier this year.

Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a Republican representing Watauga and Ashe counties in the N.C. House of Representatives, was a co-sponsor of House Bill 947, which authorized a compensation program for eugenics victims. The bill passed the House, but died in a Senate judiciary committee. 

The House budget bill for fiscal year 2012-13 included a Eugenics Reserve Fund of $11.1 million for compensation payments and administration of the compensation program, but the Senate budget bill did not. The compromise budget submitted to Perdue does not fund eugenics compensation.

"You cannot rewrite history", state Sen. Don East of Pilot Mountain, who opposed compensation payments, said during budget deliberations. "You can't buy off what people did 30 or 40 years ago and make it right."

On June 20, the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation office suspended the intake of new victim verification requests due to the joint budget agreement and with funding scheduled to end June 30.

"The verification progress is ongoing; the foundation suspended intake last week to focus its efforts on nearly 200 requests currently being processed," said Jill Lucas, communications director for the N.C. Department of Administration. "Discussions are taking place to establish a protocol for handling future requests."

As of June 20, 146 living victims had been verified by the office. A chart from the office indicates that three of the 28 victims on record in Ashe County had been verified as of April, with additional verifications since then. No victims had been verified in Watauga or Avery counties.

In May, Watauga Democrat published the story of Margaret Owens McCoy, a 72-year-old Ashe County resident who unknowingly was sterilized as a teenager in conjunction with an appendectomy.

McCoy, who did not learn about the procedure until seeing a doctor years later about her inability to become pregnant, was never told why she was selected to be sterilized, although she suspects it is because her family received welfare assistance.

Two weeks ago, McCoy received a letter stating she had been verified as a match with state records on sterilization procedures conducted under the authority of the North Carolina Eugenics Board.

"I think they should go ahead and give (compensation) to each and every one of us. We deserve it. We didn't ask to be fixed and not have no children. I wanted a family. Why do people dirty?" McCoy said. "If they've got the money, I feel the state should give us something."

McCoy said she is considering legal action.