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Sun Gazette: Left-right coalition helped get funding for victims of forced sterilizations Print


Created:  Friday March, 6, 2015 12:00PM


A coalition from the left and the right of the political spectrum came together during the 2015 General Assembly session to win action for those who were forcibly sterilized while in the care of the state government.

The legislature set aside $400,000 to provide compensation of $25,000 per person for those who were part of Virginia's forced-sterilization program, which ran from 1924 to 1979.

The measure was backed by Dels. Patrick Hope (D-47th), Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) and Ben Cline (R-Amherst). While it does not go as far as they would have liked, having funds included in the budget is a start, they said.

"Failing to act at all would bring moral censure to those of us who can do something," Marshall said in a statement, calling the sterilization program "a profound wrong."

"It is my prayer and hope that these actions . . . will serve to deter similar injustices," he said.

Hope added that he was "extremely gratified" that no legislators stepped in to halt the effort, and that the state government will now formally take responsibility for its actions.

"No amount will be enough to give back what was taken away but the compensation provided is a positive step toward healing," he said.

Hope said he aims to ultimately find ways to identify all those who underwent forced sterilization – some may not even know the procedure had been done – so they will be eligible for financial compensation.

During the 2015 session, Hope introduced legislation calling for a payment of $50,000 to each living person who had been sterilized. The measure was killed by the House Committee on Appropriations, largely over concerns about cost: Virginia officials estimate that about 722 living victims of forced sterilization might be alive and qualify for compensation under Hope's bill, which would have led to a possible total payout of $36.1 million, with additional costs to staff the program.

But Hope won half a loaf in getting funding approved.

"I couldn't have done this without the bipartisan support from Dels. Marshall and Cline, and it just goes to show how people that share different viewpoints can come together to solve problems," he said.

State officials say they do not know how many residents were impacted by the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act from 1924-79, but a study conducted by the University of Vermont estimated the total at about 7,300.