Virginia Governor Apologizes for Law That Forced Sterilizations
Gov. Mark R. Warner issued a formal apology Thursday for the state’s decision to forcibly sterilize thousands of Virginians from 1924 to 1979.
His apology coincides with the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Buck v. Bell decision upholding Virginia’s eugenics sterilization law, which became a model for other states.
Virginia forcibly sterilized about 7,450 people under the banner of eugenics, or selective human breeding and social engineering.
The practice continued until 1979. Last year, the General Assembly passed a resolution expressing “profound regret” for the state’s role, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology.
With the governor’s statement Thursday, Virginia becomes the only state of the 30 that conducted eugenics sterilizations to apologize. There are believed to be more than 60,000 eugenics victims nationwide.
“Today, I offer the commonwealth’s sincere apology for Virginia’s participation in eugenics,” Warner said.
“As I have previously noted, the eugenics movement was a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved,” he said. “We must remember the commonwealth’s past mistakes in order to prevent them from recurring.”
The law targeted virtually any human shortcoming that was believed to be hereditary, including mental illness, mental retardation, epilepsy, alcoholism and criminal behavior.
Even people deemed to be “ne’er-do-wells” were sometimes targeted.
On Wednesday in Lynchburg, two state legislators presented a commendation from the General Assembly to eugenics victim Raymond W. Hudlow for his service as a decorated combat soldier in World War II. Hudlow had been sterilized against his will at age 16 because he was a runaway.