‘Mass hysterectomies’ at ICE happened on Trump’s watch. But they’re America’s problem.

This article features our client Dawn Wooten and was originally published here.

On Tuesday evening, a harrowing report surfaced after a nurse in Georgia, Dawn Wooten, accused Immigrant and Customs Enforcement officials at the Irwin County Detention Center of denying detainees there essential health care and sending women to a doctor who allegedly performed unnecessary “mass hysterectomies.”

“I had several detained women on numerous occasions that would come to me and say: “Ms Wooten, I had a hysterectomy. Um, Why?’” Wooten told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “I had no answers as to why they had those procedures.”

Forced sterilization and other reproductive health crimes against Black, brown, poor, Indigenous and incarcerated people occurred long before Donald Trump made his grand escalator entrance

Reaction to the whistleblower complaint filed by Wooten was swift. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has demanded an investigation into Wooten’s allegations. There were renewed calls to abolish ICE by prominent members of Congress. Political talking heads described the allegations as “Nazi Germany-type cruelty happening in Trump’s America.”

The truth, though, is that forced sterilization and other reproductive health crimes against Black, brown, poor, Indigenous and incarcerated people occurred long before Donald Trump made his grand escalator entrance and announced his presidential candidacy in 2015 by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. If these reports are true, America is not so much mimicking the Nazis as it is building upon a long and racist history.

This isn’t simply ancient history, either. Just a few years ago, in 2017, a Tennessee judge offered inmates reduced sentences and early release dates if they “voluntarily agreed” to have a vasectomy or a birth control implant.

From 2006 to 2010, physicians working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation performed tubal ligations on 148 women after they gave birth while incarcerated, as reported by Reveal. From 1997 to 2010, these forced sterilization procedures were paid for by California taxpayers, to the tune of $147,460. According to Reveal, advocates and other inmates allege at least some of these surgeries were coerced. The number of people coerced or forced into sterilizations in California prisons and mental institutions is most likely much higher, however, due to the prevalence of the practice in the 20th century.

While the incarcerated are a particularly vulnerable population, American officials have targeted and taken advantage of women of color for decades, whether or not they’re in prison. The United States’ treatment of its Indigenous people, rooted in centuries of colonialism, is just one egregious example.

In 1970, the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act was passed, which subsidized sterilization for patients who relied on Medicaid or received their health care through the Indian Health Service. The law led to the sterilization — sometimes without the patients’ knowledge or understanding and as the result of pressure or coercion — of a reported 25 percent of Native American women of childbearing age over six years.

This legacy of colonialism also affected the health care — or lack thereof — provided for women in Puerto Rico, where sterilization rates soared in the 1930s and well into the 1970s.

And of course, the brutality of doctors like J. Marian Sims, the “father of modern gynecology,” is now well known. Sims, who up until two years ago had a statue in Central Park honoring him, conducted gynecological experiments on enslaved Black women without the use of anesthesia. Sims tortured these women, justifying his use of Black bodies as test subjects by arguing that Black people do not feel pain. His legacy lives on today in the hidden biases still harbored by the medical establishment; studies suggest half of white medical students believe Black people have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings than white people.

Thus outraged Americans do a disservice by comparing Dawn Wooten’s allegations with the atrocities committed by Hitler and his ilk. This is an American practice. And pretending forced sterilization is a byproduct of the Trump administration alone is an exercise in revisionist history.

Elected officials passed racist laws denying Black women reproductive justice long before this president took aim at Roe v. Wade.

Those in positions of power were harming Puerto Ricans long before the president of the United States threw paper towels at them.

Elected officials passed racist laws denying Black women reproductive justice long before this president took aim at Roe v. Wade.

Immigrant women have been assaulted and degraded, their bodies used as experiments and political chess pieces, way before this president and his administration tore babies away from their mothers.

This country committed grave human rights violations against Indigenous peoples for centuries before this president started calling a white Democratic senator “Pocahontas.”

Trump is not a bug in the American system, but an essential feature. Black, brown, immigrant, Indigenous, poor and incarcerated women have been this country’s go-to cavia porcellus — used to perfect gynecological exams, birth control methods, and other reproductive health care procedures before they’re made safely available to the affluent and white. And they’ve been shouting about these atrocities for centuries, only to be met with resounding silence and callous indifference.

It is no surprise that the person who blew the whistle on these alleged mass sterilizations was a Black woman. But will anything change? Now that would be really surprising.