February 28, 2023 | Jerry Bergman

Conservative Utah Aggressively Supported Eugenics

Contradiction: eugenics was bad, but a 2023 analysis
suggests that eugenics is OK if achieved by abortion


— Some victims of Utah’s aggressive eugenics program are still living —

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Historians studying the practices of eugenics in America were surprised to learn that the conservative state of Utah was very aggressive in implementing its eugenics program. A 2023 review of their history sought to determine how many victims of eugenics are still alive. Interviewing those still alive would them help understand why a conservative state was very aggressive in implementing its eugenics program. Normally, in the past, Democrats and “Liberals” were far more likely to support evolution and its direct offspring, eugenics see yesterday’s post).

Conversely, the party of Lincoln—the Republicans—have long tended to be conservatives and were more likely to oppose evolution and eugenics. Republicans are also more likely to take religion seriously, and thus are more likely to accept the creation account of man in opposition to racism and eugenics, believing that all humans are descendants of Adam.  Other “races” (i. e., persons evolutionists regarded as inferior, plus all groups that eugenicists regarded as candidates for sterilization), are thereby all children of God.

A recent Gallup poll of Americans found that 60 percent of Republicans, 40 percent of independents, but only 38 percent of Democrats self-identify as creationists.[1] Of the two major American political parties, about half of the general public are Republicans. The latest Pew poll found that 43 percent of Republicans accepted human evolution compared to 67 percent of Democrats.[2] Fully 48 percent of Republicans, compared to only 27 percent of Democrats, believe that humans were created by God.

Picture of Impoverished men employed to carry pro-eugenic propaganda signs in New York City on October 27, 1914.

Relevant to support for eugenics, which is the focus here, creationists as a whole accept that all humans are descendants of Adam and Eve, thus no inferior “races” exist. There is only one race, the human race. Eugenics is often tied to racism, Nazi Germany being the most egregious example. This brings us back to our concern: why would Utah, a very conservative Republican state, aggressively support eugenics? Why would so many conservatives in Utah allow it?

As we shall see, the reason has much more to do with the people staffing the institutions where eugenics was practiced – not the population of the state itself.

New research has sought to determine why conservative Utah was so aggressive to carry out its eugenics program. Researchers interviewed some of the many victims who are still alive. The term “aggressive” refers to the fact that Utah sterilized a greater proportion of its institutionalized residents than most other states. The eugenics operators rationalized their determination by claiming that their program was an important public health achievement.[3]

The Research Findings

This recent picture advertises the plan to deal with the past eugenic program in Utah.

Of the 830 men, women, and children coercively sterilized in Utah, close to 54 are still alive.[4] The half-century sterilization program, carried out from 1925 until 1974, targeted individuals confined to state institutions. These were often teenagers. Utah was particularly egregious in intentionally applying a lower threshold for sterilizations. This allowed the perpetrators to sterilize a higher percentage of persons in their state than most other states. Furthermore, Utah’s eugenics program continued well into the 1970s, long after many other states had shuttered their eugenics programs. The review of Utah’s eugenic program acknowledged that it

mixed pseudoscientific ideas about the existence of genes for complex traits like criminality and poverty with racist and ableist biases about what lives were worth living to make judgments about who in society was “fit” and worthy of bearing children and who was “unfit” and unworthy.[5]

The criteria used to approve sterilization appear irresponsible today, because it included persons who were “habitually sexually criminal, insane, idiotic, imbecile, feeble-minded or epileptic.”[6] Few people in Utah knew much, if anything, about the details of what went on in the institutions. Furthermore, the media were likely not aware of most forced sterilizations, either. Even if they had been aware at some level, they likely would have supported the practice. After all, ‘these were the licensed professionals,’ the reasoning went; ‘how can we, as non-physicians, question their medical judgment?’

The Truth Comes Out

This attitude of trusting the experts has now changed. There is increasing interest by the media to expose the foolishness of yesteryear. In the interviews, victims of the Utah sterilization program expressed attitudes of powerlessness and hopelessness against the coercion exercised by the experts. One example that the project uncovered is the case of a teenage girl, who

in 1928, told her local religious leader that she’d been repeatedly raped by a family member; the man did not believe her. Instead, she was admitted to the Utah State Hospital, diagnosed as a “moron,” and sterilized. After her release, that same religious leader admitted she was probably being sold as a sex worker by another family member.[7]

Another case involved a teenage boy who was a resident at the Utah State Training School when he

learned that he was scheduled for sterilization. His initial reaction was violent objection, motivated by his desire to have children. As time went on, however, he resigned himself to the fact that there was little he could do to prevent the operation.[8]

The population of Utah may have been conservative, but the institutional staff members were likely not. Also, it must be remembered that eugenics was a fad back in the first half of the 20th century, advocated by many leading scientists. Those who opposed eugenics on religious grounds were likely dismissed as irrelevant by the scientific institutions and the liberal media. In the 20th century, Darwinian eugenics was supported by a very large number of scientists and doctors.[9]

Chart showing the grading used to classify levels of mental deficiency. From the report Mental Defectives in Virginia 1915.

Thanks to Abortion, Eugenics is Alive and Well Today

For the Dobbs decision in 2022 that overturned Roe v Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an impassioned piece in which he correctly described abortions based on sex, race, or disability as a form of “modern-day eugenics.”[10] Those supporting abortions based on sex, race, and disability these days act not by preventing the pregnancies as earlier eugenicists had, but by terminating pregnancies after they have begun.[11]

In Washington DC, George Washington University professor Sonia M. Suter tried to refute Justice Thomas’s contention that abortion constitutes modern-day eugenics. She wrote that the motivation for these bills in several states that outlawed terminating a pregnancy based on sex, race, and disability actually has nothing to do with eugenics. She says that such laws are a ruse to restrict reproductive rights.[12] Therefore, she argues, claiming that abortion on the basis of the sex of the child, its race, or its disability, is not eugenics.

This claim is irresponsible. Sex, race, and disability were central goals of eugenics, then and now.

Suter’s attitude reveals that, to pro-abortion leftists in our society, abortion is a sacred right. Any and all restrictions to abortion are fought against by many abortion supporters. One of the main reasons for eugenic sterilization was to prevent passing on to future generations a wide variety of disabilities. To deal with their overpopulation problem, China instated a one child policy per family. Because Chinese couples could only have one child, many opted to have a boy and abort a girl fetus. Boys were considered more productive for the family’s financial needs. Use of abortion in China to enforce its one-child policy was condemned by a large number of Americans, especially women, who tended to be disproportionately targeted. China claims that this policy has been changed, but the deleterious societal impacts of population control by abortion in China and other countries that permitted sex-selection abortions continue to this day.


The example of Utah illustrates the fact that the opinions of the majority of its citizens are often of little significance to the state and its institutions in making decisions. This elitism can be seen in the fact that the majority of Americans believe in a Creator, but popular opinion is often ignored by many state officials who make the policies in education and law. Likewise, while many abortion supporters today say that they oppose eugenics, but when push comes to shove, any such concerns are usually trumped in favor of maintaining unfettered abortion rights.

—Ed. note: See Carl Wieland’s article about American eugenics at CMI.


[1] Newport, Frank. 2008. Republicans, Democrats differ on creationism. Republicans much more likely than Democrats to believe humans created as-is 10,000 years ago. https://news.gallup.com/poll/108226/republicans-democrats-differ-creationism.aspx.

[2] Funk, Cary. 2014. Republicans’ views on evolution. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/03/republican-views-on-evolution-tracking-how-its-changed/.

[3] Tabery, James, et al. 2023. Victims of eugenic sterilization in Utah: Cohort demographics and estimate of living survivors The Lancet Regional Health—Americas. DOI: 10.1016/j.lana.2023.100436, www.thelancet.com/journals/lan … (23)00010-8/fulltext.

[4] University of Utah. 2023. Survivors of Utah’s eugenic sterilization program still alive in 2023. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-02-survivors-utah-eugenic-sterilization-alive.html, February 15.

[5] University of Utah, 2023.

[6] University of Utah, 2023.

[7] Tabery, James, et al., 2023.

[8] Tabery, James, et al., 2023.

[9] Hicks, Steven. 2010. Nietzsche and the Nazis. Chicago, IL: Ockham’s Razor Publishing.

[10] Suter, Sonia M. 2023. Why reason-based abortion bans are not a remedy against eugenics: An empirical study. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 10(1):1–73, January-June. https://doi.org/10.1093/jlb/lsac033.

[11] George Washington University. 2023. State abortion bans based on sex, disability or race aren’t remedies against eugenics, says paper. https://phys.org/news/2023-02-state-abortion-based-sex-disability.html, February 2.

[12] Suter, 2023.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,800 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 60 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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