California Forced Sterilization on Nearly 150 Women in Prison

Sterilization of Women in Prison

For over four years, doctors illegally sterilized at least 148 female California inmates at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which has now been turned into a men’s prison, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.

Doctors conducted the surgeries “without required state approvals,” and inmates and prison advocates said they were aimed at pregnant prisoners who were “deemed likely to return to prison in the future,” CIR found.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla.

Dr. James Heinrich said he offered tubal ligation only to pregnant women with a history of at least three c-sections because such women face risks in subsequent pregnancies because of the scar tissue in their womb.

He denied pressuring the inmates and argued that the procedure was “cost-effective.” He argued that the amount was small “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children.”

Most of the officials felt they were doing the right thing and that the prison provided the women with a standard of health care higher than they were getting outside.

Between 1909 and 1964, about 20,000 women and men in California were stripped of the ability to reproduce – making the state the nation’s most prolific sterilizer.

CIR reports Dr. Ricki Barnett said: “When we heard about the tubal ligations, it made us all feel slightly queasy. It wasn’t so much that people were conspiratorial or coercive or sloppy. It concerns me that people never took a step back to project what they would feel if they were in the inmate’s shoes and what the inmate’s future might hold should they do this.”

CIR also reported that California still grapples with an ugly past: Under compulsory sterilization laws here and in 31 other states, minority groups, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and criminals were singled out as inferior and sterilized to prevent them from spreading their genes.

To read more about CIR’s investigation of the California prisons, click here.

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Something happened to more than seven thousand people in the state of North Carolina decades ago. Under a state-run program, young women and girls were sterilized without giving their consent. Now, the state wants to pay victims for their pain and suffering.

Sterilization victims seek compensation

CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen reports on forced sterilizations and California’s inaction on reparations to victims.

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