The Washington Post reports that a judge in an Oklahoma City courtroom recommended that Summer Thyme Creel, a mother of seven who pled guilty to writing bad checks, undergo a voluntary sterilization—a suggestion that Creel eventually took to heart.
According to the paper, Creel pled guilty to making and cashing a counterfeit check in January 2017; her sentencing hearings were postponed because, according to court records, Creel was in jail for testing positive for drugs. When the judge in her case, Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot, observed that she used both meth and crack, he made an overreaching recommendation:
“It appears highly likely,” Friot wrote, “that some of Ms. Creel’s children were conceived, carried and born while Ms. Creel was a habitual user of these illicit substances.” He noted that she had relinquished custody of six of her seven children in 2012, with the seventh born in 2016. And so the judge concluded that, at the sentencing, “Ms. Creel may, if (and only if) she chooses to do so, present medical evidence to the court establishing that she has been rendered incapable of procreation.”
Creel eventually underwent the procedure voluntarily in November, according to court records, though prosecutors argued that her willingness to do so should not be something the judge considers during her sentencing, as she “has a fundamental constitutional right to procreate” and her decision to undergo the procedure has nothing really to do with the crimes she’s committed or any sentence she might receive for those crimes.
Creel’s lawyer, W. Brett Behenna, was surprised to hear a judge recommend sterilization for a case like this. “That’s a very serious thing to bring up in the context of a criminal case, and I’ve never seen it before.” But when he brought it up with his client, Creel, he found that she did not feel coerced at all. “It is my belief that when I discussed it with Summer, she wanted to do it, 100 percent,” he said to the Post. “No coercion, no force.”
What’s so strange and ultimately, very distressing, about this seemingly random legal blip is that forced sterilization has a nasty history in the criminal justice system as being used as a means to subjugugate and control populations that were considered undesirable:
Deborah A. Reid, senior health policy attorney for the Legal Action Center, said that “substance use disorder is a disease, not a character flaw to be used against somebody in sentencing.” Reid said that “sterilization should never be a consideration in sentencing. The courts shouldn’t be involved in a person’s reproductive decision-making.” And, Reid asked, “How can the person give informed consent to be sterilized in this situation?”
Read the entire case study here.