Forced contraception and sterilization are issues which have always disproportionately impacted trans and intersex people; disabled people; indigenous, immigrants, and ethnic minorities; women; and poor people. The tremendous overlap in minority group membership and poverty was used in Sir Francis Galton’s day as it is today: to blame the victims of systemic inequality and debate if they have a right to family planning.
Eugenics was a popular concept endorsed by the intellectual elites of Europe and America. Eugenicists were usually white supremacists, though academics at black universities such as Tuskagee and venerated black thinkers like W.E.B. Du Bois adopted a form more focused on intellectual supremacy. They advocated for the sterilization of poor and criminal blacks and the advancement of the most intellectually gifted 10% of each race above the remaining 90%.
One of the first, “gentle” methods of eugenics based population control was an 1896 Connecticut law banning marriage of anyone “epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded.” Other states soon followed with marriage bans of their own. The Oralism movement against the formation of Deaf schools and communities and against the use of sign language emerged at this time, spearheaded by Alexander Graham Bell who feared a rise of hereditary deafness.
American feminist and birth control advocate Margaret Sanger believed contraception could be a gentle and somewhat voluntary means of preventive eugenics. She adopted the language and arguments of the eugenics movement and stoked fears of unruly mobs of black, drunkard, and poor Americans breeding beyond what they should to fight against the anti contraception Comstock Act. Birth control was legalized alongside forced sterilization.