His apology coincides with the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Buck v. Bell decision upholding Virginia's eugenics sterilization law.
"Today, I offer the Commonwealth's sincere apology for Virginia's participation in eugenics," the governor said.
"As I have previously noted, the eugenics movement was a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved," said Warner. "We must remember the Commonwealth's past mistakes in order to prevent them from recurring."
Virginia forcible sterilized about 7,450 people under the banner of eugenics, or selective human breeding and social engineering. The practice continued in Virginian until 1979, and it ranked second only behind California, which had 20,108 sterilizations.
The governor's statement was read aloud by state Del. Mitchell Van Yahres at a Charlottesville, Va., event Thursday honoring the memory of Carrie Buck, an 18-year-old unwed mother who was the first person forcibly sterilized under the state's 1924 statute.
Meanwhile, with its 8-1 decision in the Buck v. Bell case on May 2, 1927, the Supreme Court cleared the way for tens of thousands of sterilizations.
Besides Virginia and California, eugenics laws were passed in 28 additional states, including North Carolina (6,297), Michigan (3,786), and Georgia (3,284).
Last year, the Virginia's General Assembly passed a resolution expressing "profound regret" for the state's role in eugenics, but stopped short of a formal apology because of concern that an apology could lead to lawsuits.
Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said after consulting with Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the governor felt there would be no "legal repercussions" from issuing an apology.
In Canada, the government of Alberta apologized in 1999 for the forced sterilization of more than 2,800 people. The government paid out more than $140 million to compensate victims.