California was sterilizing its female prisoners as late as 2010 (Heinz Leitner)

On a lazy Sunday in March 2012, I was headed out to run errands when CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 turned to a broadcast called “Eugenics in America“. The report recounted the sad history of minorities, prisoners, the poor and the disabled being forcibly sterilized during the early 20th century.

No news there, right? Yet, I was taken aback when the piece focused onCalifornia‘s role. I never knew the Golden State led the nation with nearly 20,000 sterilizations. Nor did I know that Nazi Germany consulted with California’s eugenics leaders in the 1930s. I also was surprised that CNN’s reporter was unable to get lawmakers in Sacramento to talk about this.

I set out to learn more. Were there any living victims? If so, how many and how could I find them?

Coincidentally, soon afterward, I received a tip that sterilizations may have occurred in California’s women’s prisons as recently as 2010. The assertion shocked me. It sounded outlandish.

By then, I knew that California lawmakers had banned forced sterilizations in 1979. Since 1994, elective sterilizations have required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis. Had that happened in these cases?