California Prisons Sterilized Unwitting Female Inmates Like 'Animals'

Illustration for article titled California Prisons Sterilized Unwitting Female Inmates Like 'Animals'

A number of California prisons have been sterilizing female prisoners without their permission for nearly a decade. Hello Tuskegee experiment and Henrietta Lacks! What the fuck California?

The Golden State’s Auditor found that nearly one-third of 144 women who underwent tubal ligations from the fiscal years between 2005-2013 were operated upon without consent, according to The Desert Sun. In a new report entitled Sterilization of Female Inmates, the state Auditor’s office reveals that in 27 cases the inmate’s doctor did not give consent asserting that the inmate was in her right mind, understood the long-term effects of sterilization or had exhausted the mandatory waiting period. In other cases, doctors just faked the consent forms. The practice was so prevalent, the audit says there is no concrete way of knowing whether more inmates were sterilized without their knowledge.

"It made me sick to my stomach," said state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, who was the first to call for an investigation by the Medical Board of California, which is ongoing. Lieu demanded a formal apology from the federal receiver's office, which took over medical care in the state's prisons in 2006.


Auditors are pushing federal authorities to have the offending doctors further investigated and disciplined by the Medical Board and the California Department of Public Health. The Sterilization report was prompted by the California Legislative Women’s Caucus after the center for investigative reporting published an in-depth piece on the problem in 2013. The center found that prison doctors would often target and coerce repeat offenders into sterilization.

Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary during 2007, said she often overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” Nguyen, 28, said. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Nguyen’s conclusion sounds about right, which makes this entire incident all the more disheartening and upsetting. Naturally, state prison medical officials deny they had any evil motives. However, a statement from OBGYN Dr. James Heinrich who, according to prison records is responsible for over two-thirds of the tubal ligations at one prison alone, sounds pretty evil. He told the center that sterilization was just more cost effective “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more.”

Now Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus has introduced bill SB 1135 that aims to ban inmate sterilization as birth control. Tubal ligations would only be permitted to cure physical illness or during a life-threatening emergency. Prisons would be required to report their sterilization numbers annually by race, age, reason and surgical method, and the bill includes legal protection for prison personnel who report abuses. In May, the state Senate approved SB 1135 and now it must be voted on by the state Assembly. Frankly, this sterilization news is so offensive and infuriating if SB 1135 isn’t approved, I’m composing all the hate notes this world can handle. Maybe this issue can draw attention as a season three storyline for Orange Is The New Black, Jenji Kohan?


Image via Netflix.

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I tried so hard to have a tubal ligation when I was young. I was a single mother of two when I was 21, and even though I had a great job and supportive community, I did not want any more children and had nearly died having my youngest, and was paranoid to the point of celibacy due to having become pregnant twice while using condoms. So I just stopped having sex completely, for three years. But that's the story from the doctors. If it isn't medically necessary, it's a violation of their ultra-precious oath. I said it IS medically necessary, you giant dummy, because I'm having a nervous breakdown at the thought of becoming pregnant and that's a medical issue. He said Well don't have sex, then, it's foolproof. I told him that isn't always up to us. He said I was being dramatic. Then when I was 25 I had an abnormal pap smear and they said it was likely due to HPV, and there were a few cells that looked like they could be pre-cancerous. I said Would a hysterectomy keep that from spreading? They said Yep. The clouds parted. The heavens sang. The angels descended from on high into my uterus and decomissioned it like an old oil tanker. At 25 years old all I had left was my ovaries. Twelve years later, I do not regret that one bit. We know what we fucking want. I didn't want any more kids. I've had so much sex, oh man. It's so fucking liberating because I know that no matter what goes wrong, I cannot get pregnant. Ever.