Reproductive Rights of Mentally Ill

Have Their Rights Changed Over the Years?

The rights they had before..

They used to sterilize the mentally ill without their consent. Even though they had the right to marry at this time, they did not have the right to have children. A lot of doctors or their parents thought they did not have enough understanding of the concept of marriage or having children. Everyone viewed the mentally disabled as a "societal burden." Doctors see that their offspring are slow as well, and know they will just keep producing more slow children into our world. They used to be institutionalized. They could not be kept in schools if a doctor or another person thought that they were slow.

The rights they have now..

Everyone, including the mentally ill, have personal rights. They have a right to marry, a right to a family, and a right to be a guardian of a child. They did not have these rights before, except the right to marry. The mentally retarded now have the right to make their own reproductive decisions. The government has now banned sterilization of the mentally ill without their consent. They are in schools, getting an education even though they are mentally slow. The mentally disabled are not just admitted into hospitals because they are different. The 14th Amendment protects their rights for equality.

Some Court Cases Involving This Issue

Stump v. Sparkman (1976)

This case ruled against forced sterilization. A young woman was sterilized without consent or even knowing what was happening. She thought she was getting her appendix removed. She later married and found she was sterilized. She tried suing the judge that authorized the sterilization, but the courts said the judge was immune to being sued.

Buck v. Bell (1927)

This case ruled for forced sterilization. Carrie Buck was the plaintiff, she and her mother were in a institution. Carrie had a child, and the institution she was in found her to be feeble-minded. They wanted to sterilize her, and her guardian said no. They said that the institution was violating the 14th Amendment. The institution said they were trying to protect society because she would create more mentally disabled persons.

Poe v. Lynchburg Training School & Hospital (1981)

This case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project because they believed that the people in the institution were having their Constitutional Rights violated. The case ruled that sterilization did not violate their rights.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.) What does it mean to be mentally retarded/ill?

Mentally ill people learn much slower than the average child. The mentally retarded person shows low levels of intelligence and impaired adaptive behavior.

2.) Why did they want to sterilize the mentally ill?

They thought by sterilizing the people, that they would not produce more mentally ill. They believed that if a mentally ill person had a child, that it would be mentally ill. At the time, they wanted to keep the population of the mentally ill down.

3.) What amendment protects a mentally disabled persons rights?

The fourteenth Amendment protects their rights. It is the Equal Protection Clause.

4.) Is it mostly true that all of the offspring of the mentally disabled will be disabled as well?

Yes. In almost all of the cases, their offspring was mentally disabled as well.

5.) If people thought they could not handle marriage, then why did they have the right to be married?

It is one the basic rights that people had. Since they were sterilized, they could not reproduce (which is all that mattered to them anyway.)

6.) Do you think they should have the right to have children?

Answers will vary depending on opinion.


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~ Kindred, Michael. The Mentally Retarded Citizen and the Law. New York: Free, 1976. Print.



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