Metairie lawmaker considers bill to fund sterilizations
by Richard A. Webster Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS - State Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, fears Louisiana may be headed toward an economic crisis if the percentage of people dependent on the government is not decreased.
His solution: pay impoverished women $1,000 to have their tubes tied so they will stop having babies they can’t afford.
The idea came to LaBruzzo after hurricanes Katrina and Gustav when the state was forced to evacuate, shelter and care for tens of thousands of people.
"I realized that all these people were in Louisiana's care and what a massive financial responsibility that is to the state," LaBruzzo said. "I said, 'I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized.'"
LaBruzzo said he is researching the issue, and if he finds that the number of people on welfare has increased on a dramatic and continuous basis over the past several decades, he may introduce a bill during the next legislative session promoting voluntary sterilization in exchange for monetary compensation.
"If both the welfare and Social Security system keep growing, one day we're going to have a small minority of people working to fund and finance everybody else who isn’t working or producing," LaBruzzo said. "Our kids, who will be working, will be the minority and any vote of theirs will be canceled out. If your livelihood is based on government handouts, why would you ever vote for somebody who is going to lower taxes? They never would. So once we reach that breaking point there's no return."
Reaction to LaBruzzo's proposal has been swift. It has been called racist and reminiscent of the genocidal policies of the Nazis.
Shana Griffin, interim director of the New Orleans Women's Health Clinic, described it as a modern day version of eugenics, a theory that promotes improving humanity’s future by decreasing the number of babies produced by people who are seen as physically, socially or mentally deficient.
It is obvious who LaBruzzo is targeting with this legislation by mentioning welfare recipients and those dependent on city-assisted evacuation — poor, black women, Griffin said.
"If someone doesn't have a car and needs to utilize city-assisted evacuation, that makes them a social burden? The fact that he feels so comfortable and entitled to make these statements is a reflection of our society, that we’re OK with the most vulnerable of our community being blamed for the social, economic and political crises that we’re experiencing,” Griffin said. “If we really want to improve the lives of people in our communities we would think about raising the minimum wage, holistic health care, improving labor laws, employment opportunities for all people and the educational system.
"Instead he wants to use a form of medical experimentation and forced sterilization on poor women of color, using their economic status as a way to make them more vulnerable to the offer.”
Tulane University criminologist Peter Scharf said LaBruzzo's idea is proof that Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is alive and well. In the 1729 satirical essay, Swift proposed solving Ireland’s economic troubles by selling children as food to the wealthy. His essay is subtitled, "For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public."
It is not unusual during times of economic turmoil for people to lay the blame for everyone’s problems on the backs of the black underclass, Scharf said. But in this case, LaBruzzo is out on a raft by himself.
"We're about to go into a major recession or depression and no one economically is blaming it on the black underclass," Scharf said. "They're blaming it on Congress, George W. Bush or the captains of industry. The true victimizers of present-day society live in the corporate boardrooms, and very few of them are black. They’re the people running Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers and AIG.
"We're about to spend $700 billion in a week to save these welfare corporations who have ripped off society, and he's worrying about someone who might collect a welfare check 20 years from now? The irony given the world situation today makes me want to laugh."
But this is not about the problems of today, LaBruzzo said. It is about the future and whether the number of people dependent on the state will continue to grow to the point where the whole system crashes.
LaBruzzo said he is only considering the proposal for now while he conducts research. But backlash from various groups was to be expected, he said.
“The black community will say this is some sort of race-based genocide. And there will be tremendous push back from the ACLU. They'll try to say these people are incapable of making such a decision when their life is in turmoil. That if you're dangling money in front of them, of course they'll make a decision that will affect them negatively.
"My argument would be if they’re incapable of making a decision whether to cease reproduction are they capable of raising multiple children to be good citizens? And if they're incapable, maybe Social Services should take their children."
The church also bears some responsibility for failing to speak out more forcefully against economically challenged women giving birth to multiple children, LaBruzzo said.
"I'm sure many of these people aren't going to church every Sunday and many aren't married before having children and sex. But the church isn't condemning their lifestyle. They’re just condemning anyone who's trying to do something about it."
Despite the criticisms that have been leveled against him, LaBruzzo insists that voluntary sterilization has nothing to do with race.
"The majority of people on welfare in the nation are white. So the people making those arguments are less concerned with helping those people and more concerned trying to convince themselves that they're not prejudiced, that they're these wonderful, good people. The politically safe thing to do is to not touch this, but the train is potentially going off the cliff and everyone just wants to ignore the problem."
Griffin said it would have been to the benefit of everyone if LaBruzzo was the one ignoring the problem.
"Referring to people as social burdens is the same as referring to them as social degenerates," she said. "What he needs to keep in mind is that the people he's talking about sterilizing are the working class who keep this city afloat."•