Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the involuntary sterilization edition

While surfing the internet for stories to cover on this week's edition of TTPMOT, I found this. I stopped looking for anything else to write about.

It has just been revealed that the state prison system in California sterilized at least 148 female inmates against their wishes.

These sterilizations didn't occur decades ago during the dark times when forced sterilizations were routinely believed to be acceptable treatments for the feeble minded.


They occurred between 2006 and 2010. 

There is documentation of 148 procedures, but it's highly suspected that the actual number is much higher.

Were these particular inmates violent sexual offenders? No.

They were just pregnant female inmates who gave birth while behind the walls of a prison, and who were sterilized during those births whether they agreed to it or not. Many report being coerced into the procedures, some were not told about it at all until after it was done.

The people in positions of authority decided that these women had enough children, decided that their consent was irrelevant. They knew that sterilizations were not covered by federal prison funds, so they only used state money. They knew it was illegal to push the procedures on women, gain consent while those women were in labor, and did it anyway. They knew that the state of California implemented laws requiring case by case approval of forced sterilizations, and ignored it. None of these procedures were approved, none of the paperwork was filed, no panel of people heard anything case by case.

The doctors targeted inmates who they thought might be repeat offenders and those who they decided already had enough children. Dr. James Heinrich, former OBGYN at one of the prisons said this in response to the cost of the sterilization procedures, "this isn't a huge amount of money...compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more". Ample justification for denying the procreative rights of these woman in his eyes was the avoidance of welfare.

Many of these laws were passed in California as a direct response to the sordid history the state has with forced sterilizations already. It is known that over 20,000 people, male and female, were sterilized in mental institutions before the mid 1960's in California, with the goal of the program being to rid society of the defective people and feeble minded.

Passing all the laws in the world does nothing if those people charged with following the laws ignore them.

Just to compare, I did a little research on male forced sterilization. By and large it hasn't occurred since the eugenics movement came to an end in the United States, even for the worst sexual offenders. There are a handful of states, California included, that allow for chemical castration (but not permanent sterilization) of specific categories of sex offenders. Chemical castration is reversible, doesn't interfere with long term fertility, and it is still viewed by many as cruel and unusual punishment. 

If a reversible treatment given to the worst sex offending males is considered cruel and unusual, how would you even begin to define what happened to these non-sex-offender women?


  1. This is horrifying. It makes me shudder to think about all of the things that haven't been brought to light yet. :(


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