Nearly 250 female inmates were sterilized in California prisons without state approval between 1997 and 2010, reveals a new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The majority of the incarcerated women were signed up for permanent sterilization to be performed after they gave birth, and now some women who underwent the procedure say doctors coerced them into having the tubal ligation. One female claims she was strapped down and sedated when a doctor pressured her to undergo the irreversible procedure.
“As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it,” said Christina Cordero, 34, who spent two years in prison for auto theft. “He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it.” She now says she regrets getting it done.
At least 148 of the female prisoners at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. The report estimates another 100 inmates may have been sterilized between 1997 and 2006 as well.
The doctors who performed the sterilizations were under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. For the last 16 years, the State of California has restricted sterilization without state approval. It is illegal for a doctor to attempt to convince anyone to be sterilized or ask for consent during labor or childbirth.
According to inmates and prison advocates, the tubal litigations were allegedly aimed at pregnant prisoners who were "deemed likely to return to prison in the future," the Center for Investigative Reporting found.
While federal funding cannot pay for sterilization in prisons, in California, state money can fund inmate sterilization procedures. But each procedure must be approved by a federal review committee. No requests for sterilization were presented to the health care committee responsible for approving the restricted procedures, said Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp., reported The Atlantic.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporing, doctors were paid $147,460 to carry out the procedures over the 13 years. OB-GYN Dr. James Heinrich, 69, said that price tag is very low in comparison to the money that would have gone to government welfare for unplanned children.
"Over a 10-year period, that isn't a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more," Heinrich said.
There is a long and horrific history of forced sterilization of institutionalized or marginalized peoples in the U.S., particularly of Native Americans.
Tens of thousands of women, men and even children were sterilized from the early 1900s through the middle part of the century. Often, the victims were misled about the treatments they were undergoing; sometimes they were pressured or even forced to cooperate. Most had been deemed unfit to reproduce, often because they weren’t white and sometimes because they were ruled mentally inferior. The programs all were justified by eugenics policies meant to improve the gene pool.
Advocates for the thousands of Native women who were victimized by such programs say another motivation lurked behind the horrific abuses. “This was a concerted attack on Indian American women that constituted genocide,” said Andrea Carmen, a former sterilization activist from the Yaqui Nation who now serves as executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council.