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Virginia Pilot: Payments for Va. sterilization victims delayed again Print


Created:  February 6, 2014


It was perhaps an unprecedented show of solidarity from across the political spectrum: The Virginia Catholic Conference. The Jewish Community Relations Council. The American Civil Liberties Union. Planned Parenthood. The conservative Family Foundation of Virginia.

But all that support wasn't enough to persuade a select group of lawmakers that it's time to compensate people who were forcibly sterilized by the state decades ago under a now-discredited policy designed to weed out "defectives."

An eight-member subcommittee of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee declined Wednesday to advance a bill (HB74) that would have authorized $50,000 payments to sterilization victims. By a voice vote with no audible dissent, the panel voted to carry over the legislation to the 2015 General Assembly session.

A similar measure received similar treatment last year.

About 7,000 Virginians were involuntarily sterilized between 1924 and 1979 under the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act. The eugenics movement sought to improve the genetic composition of humankind by limiting the reproduction of those deemed its less desirable members.

The law became a model for legislation passed around the country and the world, including Nazi Germany.

The sterilization program peaked in the 1940s, so few victims are still alive, proponents of compensation say. So far, 10 have come forward with definitive medical documentation.

Three were present in the committee room Wednesday. One spoke to the panel: 86-year-old Lewis Reynolds of Lynchburg, a 30-year Marine Corps veteran who fought in two wars.

"Most people have got children; I don't have any," he said. "Most people have got grandchildren to take care of them. I live by myself and I don't have no children to take care of me whatsoever."

The compensation bill was sponsored by conservative Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County, and liberal Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington County.

"Nobody would dispute that a grave injustice was done," Marshall told the subcommittee. "Nobody would dispute that the commonwealth bears responsibility.

"I don't think anybody would dispute that justice demands some token of compensation. We can never approximate the real loss, but we must strive to do something."

Last year, North Carolina allocated $10 million for people sterilized under a similar program, Marshall said.

Several members of the panel told Marshall they were sympathetic to his intent, but they weren't ready to act.

"I do think it's fair to do this process in a more deliberate fashion," said Del. John O'Bannon, R-Henrico County, the subcommittee chairman.

After the vote, Marshall pledged to bring the matter to the floor of the House in an amendment to the state budget so that every member would have to vote on it.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," he said.