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'Unimaginable cruelty and trauma' - A survivor of forced sterilization speaks out

Elaine Riddick became pregnant after being raped at age 13. When she delivered the baby, via c-section, she was sterilized – without her knowledge or consent.

Elaine Riddick. Courtesy photo.

Today, Riddick is a passionate pro-life advocate, and the executive director of the Rebecca Project for Justice.

And she believes her story is not unique. Tens of thousands of Americans have been forcibly sterilized throughout U.S. history, with minority populations being disproportionately targeted.

Riddick says that Black communities are often discouraged from speaking up. When she was interviewed earlier this summer by the Washington Post, she says her words were twisted to make it look like she supported abortion. And she says her complaints and requests for a correction were ignored.

Charlie Camosy spoke with Riddick this week about her experience, her pro-life work, and her belief that abortion and forced sterilization are part of a eugenic movement that harms Black communities.

In 1968, you were forcibly sterilized as a 14 year-old girl; you had become pregnant by a sexual assault - a rape. Can we begin by asking about those experiences?

I was raped at the age of 13 in Winfall, North Carolina, and I carried my baby for nine months to a full-term birth.

In the hospital giving birth in Chowan County, North Carolina, doctors performed a cesarean section on me. During the cesarean, they sterilized me directly after giving birth without my consent. I was dehumanized and treated like a hog or some domesticated animal.

I stayed in the hospital for about a week due to the fact that I had fallen into a coma, because the surgery was botched.

My grandmother took me home from the hospital, and I breastfed my son.

I lived with my grandmother, because my mother was in prison and my father abandoned me - he was suffering from shell-shock (now called PTSD) after returning home from military service. Therefore, the state of North Carolina awarded me to my grandmother after the central orphanage did not want to accept me.

Later, my grandmother sent me to New York to live with my aunt, because I was being bullied and I had a hard life in my North Carolina community.

After I was raped, I did not realize I was pregnant at first. A social worker approached my grandmother because of gossip in our neighborhood. I was taken to the health department in Hertford, North Carolina, a few miles away, where the pregnancy was confirmed.

I found out as an adult, when I was unable to get pregnant, that the social worker had coerced my grandmother to sign the letter “X” on documents agreeing to have me sterilized. My grandmother never completed first grade, and she could not read or write. She did not understand what she was signing, but she still signed “X” because the social worker threatened to end her welfare food supplements from the state of North Carolina.

These classist and racist eugenic sterilization policies that harmed me were promoted actively by Margaret Sanger and Dr. Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood and their millionaire funders.

The social worker sent the signed “X” document to the eugenics board of North Carolina, which consisted of five white men who approved an order to sterilize me at 14 years old. This is unimaginable cruelty and trauma.

Thank you for sharing such a personal story.

How did this experience lead you to become a pro-life activist and found The Rebecca Project for Justice?

After I learned about this traumatizing experience of being forcibly sterilized, I became a pro-life activist in my teens, even before Roe v Wade. I am against the killing of unborn children.

In 1971, I began fighting the eugenics board to end abortions and forced sterilizations, which I identify as cruel reproductive health policy and an inhumane assault on Blacks and African-American families to deliberately reduce our populations after the end of slavery.

We as African-Americans were exploited and bred like cattle in “Slave Breeding,” to produce slaves as free labor. Then after slavery was abolished, we were targeted for abortions and coerced sterilizations because we could no longer be exploited on plantations as free workers.

Abortions, coerced sterilizations, and lethal hormonal contraceptives such as Depo Provera have collectively reduced our population by approximately 20 million people since 1973. Blacks make up currently approximately 45 million people in the United States; therefore, at the very least if we factor in our murdered babies since slavery was abolished, there would be some 70 million African-Americans or Blacks living in America today.

That’s a powerful political force.

With a population of 70 million, we as African-Americans and Blacks would have been able to speak our minds without fear of being ostracized, denied jobs and funding for community projects that strengthen the moral fiber of our people.

With a population of 70 million, we as African-Americans and Blacks would live without the daily fear of being targeted or fired by those who control reproductive health policy, media and academic institutions—we would challenge them forcefully.

With a population of 70 million, we as African-Americans and Blacks would have lived without the leadership who are elected or even the heads of our civil society organizations, like the NAACP, who seem to only parrot and rubber stamp the dominant, harmful reproductive agenda.

I include lethal contraceptives in the deliberate assault on our populations because Black women have been marketed contraceptives with high cancer risk, like Depo Provera.

Black women have both the highest abortion rates and the highest mortality rates from breast cancer in America—this has been the recipe for the generational destruction of our Black community, but disguised as reproductive health policy and empowering Black women.

Instead, the government could have provided improved maternal care for pregnant women to reduce maternal mortality.

The Washington Post did a recent feature story about you, and you say that story twisted your words and witness, to convey the opposite of what you believe about abortion.

Can you fill us in on some of the details?

Yes, the Washington Post twisted my words when their journalist Meena Venkataramanan made my story the centerpiece for her fake news article: “She Survived a Forced Sterilization. She fears more could occur post-Roe,” published July 24, 2022.

The Washington Post falsely ascribed to me the view that the Court's decision in Dobbs will open the door to forced sterilizations by removing constitutional protections for women's bodily autonomy.

My position is, in fact, the opposite.

I worry instead that progressives will now move to limit Black women's fertility and prevent the births of Black children by other coercive means, including sterilization.

With friends, I celebrated and welcomed the overturning of Roe, and I believe abortion should be banned.

And yet, the Washington Post falsely portrayed me as supporting a pro-choice agenda even though they clearly knew, and I stated in the interview, that I am against abortion and am pro-life.

I attend the March for Life nearly every year in Washington D.C. I have dedicated my life as an activist to educating the public about the harm of abortion and the ugly history of racist progressive eugenics in America. It is my fear post-Roe that Democrats would now begin to rationalize a revival of the Margaret Sanger and Dr. Alan Guttmacher forced sterilization policies that harmed me.

The Washington Post has also not published the letter below, which I demanded as a correction on June 28, 2022:

The Washington Post gravely misrepresented and distorted my position in a recent article, “She Survived a Forced Sterilization. She fears more could occur post-Roe” (by Meena Venkataramanan), and in so doing undermined my life’s work as a pro-life activist fighting for black women and their unborn babies.

I have spoken out against abortion as a racist tool of eugenics that has resulted in the death of 20 million black unborn babies. As a victim of forced eugenic sterilization, it is appalling to me that my words were used to promote abortion.

I celebrated the landmark Supreme Court ruling reversing Roe and allowing states to restrict abortion in the United States. I believe that abortion should be banned. Modern white supremacists support abortion because they know that it suppresses the black population.

Post-Roe, I worry that progressive Democrats will try to enact other policies to limit the number of black babies born, including by coerced sterilization.

It is time for progressives to stop targeting the black community with abortion, sterilization, and long-acting injectable contraceptives and work instead to provide much needed health care to black women so that they can truly be free.

Elaine Riddick
Editors’ note: While the Washington Post has not issued a correction on its July 24 profile of Riddick, it did append a “clarification” to the story on its website, which reads as follows:
“In this article, Elaine Riddick, an abortion opponent, is quoted saying ‘I think a woman should have control of her body.’ She is speaking about forced sterilization and not indicating support for abortion rights. The headline has been adjusted to reflect this.”

Your supporters have asked how a media outlet can get away with misrepresenting your views.

Does this incident shed any light on why we generally don't get the full story on what people of color think about abortion?

Media outlets get away with this because generally as a community we are afraid to speak out publicly about issues.

Most of us in the Black and African-American community respect God and we respect life; however, we are silent about abortion or tacitly support oppressive polices because our jobs will be threatened and funding for projects will become non-existent. We feel we do not have a voice to speak our truth about abortion and other cruel reproductive health practices without repercussions.

Yes, it sheds light on why we generally don't get the full story on what people of color think about abortion.

Black people are more likely to be against abortion, we are used to having large families, and we pray and go to church. Yet despite the fact that I am a high-profile black pro-life activist, the Washington Post had the audacity to twist my words and make it seem as if I were supporting a pro-choice agenda. This is all you need to know in order to understand that the media will promote false studies which support an oppressive reproductive health agenda of eliminating Black babies to reduce our populations and continue to keep us powerless.

How can the pro-life movement have better relationships with communities of color? It is in the process of changing, but for the most part the U.S. pro-life movements have been extremely white.

This despite the fact that, for the last several years, people of color have polled as more pro-life than white people. How can we do better?

The pro-life movement - including those who fund the pro-life movement - have to actively open their arms to specifically embrace African-Americans and Blacks.

For example, they should invite us to sit on leadership boards, invite us to political and community forums, help fund projects like mine that struggle for funding to protect pregnant Black girls to have safe births instead of abortions, and not to use dangerous harmful contraceptives that significantly increase the risk of breast cancer 2.2-fold. Far too often, we are simply “off the radar.”

Generally, we African-Americans and Blacks have limitations on what we can say or think publicly due to fear of being ostracized. We therefore need public support from our pro-life friends. Just look at how a brilliant and powerful man like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is constantly vilified and attacked by Democrats and progressives.

Black children learn that if you are Black, brilliant, and support moral values that protect the dignity of life, you will be attacked, demeaned and vilified for taking a public stand. Many feel that their only viable alternative is to go along with a cruel reproductive health agenda of killing Black babies by the millions and marketing dangerous hormonal contraceptives that significantly increase the risk of breast cancer in our communities, while deliberately ignoring the glaring fact that we have the highest mortality rates from breast cancer and the highest rates of abortion.

You are in the midst of building the "Elaine Riddick Sister Sanctuary for Girls at Risk” in Georgia.

Can you tell us about this initiative? Especially in this post-Dobbs moment, do you think this is the kind of thing the pro-life movements can do on a broader scale?

The Elaine Riddick Sister Sanctuary for Girls at Risk, in Atlanta, Georgia, is a home for at-risk girls of all ages. The girls, young women and mothers I focus on are those who are homeless and at risk of being sold into human trafficking, and those who are pregnant and homeless – I persuade them not to have abortions and to seek refuge with us. Our sanctuary is also a safe home where babies can be dropped off anonymously by mothers and fathers who cannot care for their children.

Our sanctuary for girls will provide hope to girls living in fear and despair. It will provide basic education on site for girls to receive their GEDs. We will also have mental health therapists, life coaches and mentors to provide girls with life skills, parenting skills to bond with babies, and job training with placement so they can become productive members of society.

Yes, in this post-Dobbs moment, our pro-life movement should support and expand initiatives like mine to demonstrate to the world that our humanity and morals mean caring for those girls and young women who need a safe place for both temporary and long-term refuge to heal and rebuild their lives, so they can continue to care for their beautiful children and families. The pro-life movement should support Black organizations like mine that have real community programs for girls; because we as Black people are the most targeted by Planned Parenthood for abortions and dangerous contraceptives.

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