William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Robyn M. Powell


In September 2020, a whistleblower complaint was filed alleging that hysterectomies are being performed on women at an immigration detention center in alarmingly high rates. Regrettably, forced sterilizations are part of the nation’s long-standing history of weaponizing reproduction to subjugate socially marginalized communities. While public outrage in response to the whistleblower complaint was swift and relentless, it largely failed to acknowledge how eugenic ideologies and practices, including compulsory sterilizations, are ongoing and deeply entrenched in ableism. Indeed, a conversation that recognizes the ways in which eugenics continues to target people with disabilities is long overdue.

This Article contextualizes how eugenics has targeted people with disabilities over time, the ways in which these ideologies and practices persist, and why analysis and advocacy concerning eugenics—including the current abuses at immigration detention centers—that do not center the experiences of people with disabilities, especially people with disabilities who are also members of other socially marginalized communities, are inadequate. First, the Article explores the evolution of eugenics and its harmful effects on people with disabilities in the United States, including contemporary examples of eugenic policies and practices. Next, it describes ableism and its relation to eugenics, highlighting how eugenics is deeply rooted in ableism. Finally, the Article concludes by suggesting a path forward that addresses the role of ableism in eugenics, specifically discussing normative legal and policy implications. It also considers opportunities for collaboration across communities.