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When seventeen-year-old Alice Mason, whose family consists of parents who are alcoholics, a brother who is a "congenital cripple," two brothers who are congenitally mentally retarded, and a brother who is in jail, publicly announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Jim Baker, the state welfare board becomes alarmed. Pressured by welfare worker Miss White, Alice's parents sign papers giving their consent to have all of their children sterilized, including Alice. Miss White then forces Alice to go with her to the hospital, but Alice manages to sneak off and, dressed like a boy, hops a train car. After she is attacked by hoboes, who deduce her true sex, Alice flees from the train and hitches a ride with a seemingly sympathetic man. Alice tells her story to the man, who turns out to be a sheriff, and is arrested. Jim, meanwhile, goes to Dr. Brooks, the physician in charge of the hospital's sterilization program, and begs him to reconsider Alice's situation. Moved by Jim's words, Brooks pleads her case in court, but the judge denies Brooks's petition and Alice again is taken away. While Brooks, whose program regularly sterilizes career criminals, continues to fight for Alice's right to bear children, Father O'Brien, the family priest, works to convince her parents to sign another order that would prevent the operation. Finally, with only moments to spare, Mrs. Mason confesses that Alice is not her natural child. With this confession, Brooks rushes to the hospital and halts the operation, thus clearing the way for Alice to marry Jeff and bear tomorrow's children.