Most victims were white, but some African Americans and Indians were sterilized. The last two people sterilized under the law had the surgery in 1979, according to state records obtained by Marshall.
In 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution of regret for the selective-breeding policies, and then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) offered a formal apology the next year.
No state has provided compensation. Last year, the governor of North Carolina urged that the state appropriate $10 million to compensate victims of forced sterilization. The state’s House passed a measure that did not clear the Senate. The legislature is debating compensation again this year.
“We tend to think this is a Nazi policy. They got it from us,” said Mark C. Bold, executive director of the Christian Law Institute, which is advocating for the victims. “That’s why we’re suggesting Virginia take the lead.”
Bold said it was immoral to deny compensation to the victims or to delay paying them for much longer. “That’s why they wanted to get rid of them before, because they were on the public dole,” Bold said. “I think they’re hoping they’ll die off.”
To Marshall, a longtime and prominent abortion foe, the eugenics law is an example of the peril of social engineering by big government. But Hope noted that an example of recent legislation that specifies a medical procedure is last year’s law requiring women to have ultrasounds before an abortion.
Their legislation would cap compensation at $50,000 per person, to be paid with surplus funds. The bill’s provisions would expire July 1, 2018. The state would have no obligation to locate victims, who would have to come forward on their own.
Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), who sits on the Appropriations Committee, said he was sympathetic to the victims but that the fiscal impact could be huge.
Legislative analysts with Virginia’s Department of Planning and Budget issued a fiscal impact statement estimating that Virginia sterilized 7,325 people between 1924 and 1979, when the law was repealed. The analysts — citing a University of Vermont study and a 2012 report by a North Carolina task force — estimated that 1,465 Virginia victims could be alive. Compensation could cost nearly $73.3 million, the analysts concluded.
Hope and Marshall, however, say the numbers would be much smaller, because most of Virginia’s sterilizations took place in the 1930s and ’40s. They estimate that only a few hundred victims are still alive. Hope dismissed concerns that the measure could set a precedent for reparations for slavery or other injustices.
“The big difference is, these people are still alive,” Hope said. “To hear their stories just brings tears to your eyes.”
Reynolds said he didn’t know he had been sterilized until a military doctor advised him that that was the reason Reynolds and his first wife could not have children.
“I cried about it because I couldn’t have no children,” Reynolds, 85, said in an interview at Marshall’s office.
Reynolds said his first wife did not want to adopt children and the inability to have children contributed to their divorce. His second wife also did not want to adopt, he said, and now he finds himself alone. He said the sight of a pregnant woman still upsets him, sometimes by reminding him of what he and his wife could never have.
“I just feel they took my life away from me,” he said.