Carrie Buck was a woman who was confined to a state mental facility because she was “feeble-minded.” Her condition had been passed down through three generations in her family. To improve the “health of the patient and the welfare of society,” a Virginia statute authorized residents of institutions to be forcibly sterilized. On May 2, 1927, in an 8–1 decision, the Court accepted that Buck, her mother and her daughter were “feeble-minded” and “promiscuous”, and that it was in the state’s interest to have her sterilized. Between 1927 and 1972, roughly 8,300 sterilizations were completed under state law. Buck, despite her diagnosis, had an active life after her release from the institution until she died in 1983.
As a disabled woman myself, I’ve often thought about having children later on in life. I do wonder if society would deem me unfit for motherhood because of my Cerebral Palsy. Just because I have CP doesn’t mean that I cannot raise a child if I so choose. I may have to find creative parenting solutions, but that is fine with me.
There have been cases such as that of Kaney O’Neill, who has quadriplegia, where a disabled woman has had to prove that she is fit for the duties of motherhood. Just because someone has quadriplegia, it doesn’t automatically make them an unfit parent.
Disabled women are women first. They are entitled to their reproductive rights. Although Buck v. Bell has never been ruled unconstitutional; its logic has been substantially invalidated by subsequent case law and a rising awareness of the necessity for procedural protections to protect the privacy rights that sterilization compromises.
Antonios, Nathalie, and Christina Raup. “Buck v. Bell (1927).” The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, Arizona State University, 1 Jan. 2012, embryo.asu.edu/pages/buck-v-bell-1927.
Brownstein, Joseph. “Quadriplegic Mother Fights for Custody of Son.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 22 Dec. 2009, abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/quadraplegic-mother-fights-maintain-custody-son/story?id=9403163.
Smith, J.. “Buck, Carrie (1906–1983)” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (18 Feb. 2021).