Hundreds of Female Prisoners Sterilized in CA Without Approval

prisonThe Sacramento Bee published a bombshell of a story about California doctors sterilizing “nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals,” and notes that “there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.” The state paid doctors to perform tubal ligations, so it knew they were happening in spite of the fact that the proper approvals were never obtained.

The Bee notes that state lawmakers officially banned forced sterilization of prisoners and the mentally ill in 1979, and “since 1994 the procedure has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis,” reflecting concerns that prisoners might be coerced into the procedure. “Yet no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such restricted surgeries,” said Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp.

According to the paper, “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, which is now a men’s prison.”

What is most disturbing to me about this story is the way Valley State OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, openly describes his role as doctor as a god who should make reproductive decisions for women he sees as inhuman. Not only did he “repeatedly pressure” several inmates into agreeing to a tubal ligation, he told reporters, “he provided an important service to poor women who faced health risks in future pregnancies because of past Caesarean sections” and said the $147,460 paid by the state for these procedures was “minimal.”

“Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money,” Heinrich said, “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children as they procreated more.”

Furthermore, “the 16-year-old restriction on tubal ligations seemed to be news” to the doctors performing the surgeries. And “none of the doctors thought they needed permission to perform the surgery on inmates.”

What kind of Nazi hell nightmare is this? We round poor people up, mostly brown, throw them into prisons, then we sterilize the women? And I can’t help but hear the knee-jerk reaction of conservative pigs saying, “Well, you liberals want women to get abortions to end pregnancy, and these doctors were just trying to end pregnancy.” But as the Bee notes, it’s illegal to offer a woman sterilization during labor and birth, and the doctors implicated in this story did just that. Additionally, a doctor not implicated in this story confirmed to the Bee that it is ethically inappropriate to offer tubal ligation over a “reversible means of birth control.”

For more on this horrifying story, including the personal testimony of former inmates, visit The Sacramento Bee.

Photo credit: iStock


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