Tim Kane: Vermont’s empty eugenic apology had been overdue for decades


This commentary is from Tim Kane, a musician who lives in Richmond.

“Yet what greater defeat could we suffer than to come to resemble the forces we oppose in their disrespect for human dignity?” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

from Vermont recent apologies because state-sanctioned eugenics is an empty gesture, without any mention of reparations or statutory reform beyond the wave and without a commitment to recognize “that new legislative measures should be taken to combat the continuing impact of state-sanctioned eugenic policies and related deprivation practices and genocide.

Supporters argue the apology is a first step to justice and admit it is overdue. But compared to the efforts of other states to right the wrongs of eugenics, “late” may be the understatement of the century.

Vermont is decades behind with his eugenic apologies. Virginia, Oregon and North Carolina apologized in 2002, Caroline from the south and California in 2003. North Carolina and Virginia put their money where their mouth is (albeit more than a decade after apologizing), paying modest compensation to victims of forced sterilization.

Vermont’s apology offers no assurance that “future legislation” will be taken, only stating that it “should be taken. ”The apologies fail to repeal (or even mention) the current Vermont forced sterilization law. Vermont is generations behind in this regard.

1931 from Vermont Act for human improvement language remained essentially intact until 1987. Without the tireless advocacy from Sally Fox, Vermont might still have this shameful law in its books. Incredibly, its purebred remnants persist in the involuntary sterilization provisions of 18 VSA § 8708.

H.116, this session’s bill to repeal Vermont’s involuntary sterilization law, was left abandoned in the House Committee on Social Services, suffering the same fate as its predecessors dating from the 2017 session- 18 (H.183, S.5 and H.880). H.116 was a no-cost, passage-ripe bill that would have bolstered Vermont’s empty apology with meaningful action.

Despite the recent legislative focus on reproductive rights in Vermont, lawmakers, disability rights advocates and the local media have maintained an unbroken silence on the issue of forced sterilization and the failure of the “effort.” ‘repeal.

Passage of the news from Vermont abortion rights law and the campaign to amend the Vermont Constitution in favor of unlimited abortion rights shed light on the statutory language of involuntary state sterilization. The abortion law begins with the following statement: “The State of Vermont recognizes the fundamental right of every individual to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization. ”

Legislators sponsoring the bill and its champions (Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund and ACLU-VT), specifying all individual, directly contradicted the wording of Vermont’s forced sterilization law, which provides for “involuntary sterilizations of adults with intellectual disabilities in circumstances which will ensure that the best interests and rights of such persons are fully protected.” Inexplicably, lawmakers knowingly contradicted the involuntary sterilization law but avoided using language that would explicitly repeal it.

Nationally, to its credit, the ACLU has consistently opposed the involuntary sterilization of people with disabilities, as attested by ACLU lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight against forced sterilization in the 1970s and more recent advocacy work in Connecticut and Illinois. Sponsors of H.116 and its predecessors include former ACLU-VT board members Maida Townsend, Barbara Rachelson and Susan Buckholz. Thirty-eight others have also sponsored, including Senator Ginny Lyons and Representatives Cina, Durfee, Ancel, Pugh, Wood, Grad and Till.

Yet oddly enough, the ACLU-VT has refused to make any efforts to support these bills. Like ACLU-VT, the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund has been silent on Vermont’s involuntary sterilization law. If they and the ACLU-VT argued for its repeal, their staunch voting bloc would certainly measure up, as they did with the 2019 unrestricted abortion law.

In the aftermath of Vermont’s empty apology, after the burial of sensible repeal bills for three consecutive sessions, a few uncomfortable questions linger:

  • If lawmakers have pledged to make reproductive autonomy a universal and unlimited right, why haven’t they also pledged to repeal the law on involuntary sterilization?
  • Was this year’s apology a tactical maneuver to keep eugenics out of the news during next year’s “voter education” campaign to amend the Vermont Constitution?
  • Was the repeal intentionally delayed to ensure that the involuntary sterilization law is implicitly repealed via the constitutional amendment vote next year, in a blaze of media-fueled inclusion glory?
  • Conversely, if there is an argument to be made in favor of maintaining the law on involuntary sterilization, why not do it publicly?

Such provocative questions may seem unreasonable, but it is eminently reasonable to conclude that today in Vermont, reproductive autonomy is a right reserved only to individuals whom the state deems fit to procreate.

Despite our abortion and sterilization laws employing fundamentally contradictory language, both laws pose the same existential threat to people with intellectual disabilities. Under these two laws, two categories of voiceless individuals, each undeniably viable, are carefully legislated to disappear. The right to live of one class is denied by law, while the right to reproduce autonomously is also denied to the other.

The issue of reproductive rights for people with intellectual disabilities becomes moot when the ultimate effect of Vermont’s unrestricted abortion law is realized. When there is more people born with an intellectual disability, it will be too late for an apology.


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