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During the years of 2006-2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized about 150 women without receiving approval from the state. The sterilization process is also known as tubal ligation; the doctors who performed this procedure were contracted by the CDCR. The doctors were funded through state funds to perform the procedure, with expenses totaling up to $147,460.

The state of California made the practice of forced sterilization on prison inmates (especially those who classify as ‘mentally ill’ and poor) illegal since 1979. Also, it is illegal for prisons to use federal funds to cover the costs of sterilization. Prisons are able to find a loop-hole in this law by allowing doctors to visit inmates. These visitations give doctors the opportunity to seek approval from inmates, even when they are in labor.

A former inmate, Christina Nguyen who worked at Valley State Prison overheard medical staff persuading inmates who had several prison terms to become sterilized: “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” said Nguyen, 28. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Inmates told The Sacramento Bee:

Michelle Anderson, who gave birth in December 2006 while at Valley State, said she’d had one prior C-section. Anderson, 44, repeatedly was asked to agree to be sterilized, she said, and was not told what risk factors led to the requests. She refused.

Nikki Montano also had had one C-section before she landed at Valley State in 2008, pregnant and battling drug addiction.

Montano, 42, was serving time after pleading guilty to burglary, forgery and receiving stolen property. The mother of seven children, she said neither Heinrich nor the medical staff told her why she needed a tubal ligation.

“I figured that’s just what happens in prison – that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going get,” Montano said. “He never told me nothing about nothing.”

Although prison and medical staff members told female inmates the sterilization would benefit them health wise, the underlying tone and purpose of the procedure is being used against women who would be labeled as second-class citizens. According to OB-GYN Dr. James Heinrich:

 “I  provided an important service to poor women who faced health risks in future pregnancies because of past Caesarean sections. Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more.”

Sterilization goes beyond medical procedures; it becomes a race and economic issue between the upper/lower class. During the mid-twentieth century, sterilization was tested upon African –American and Latino women. The women who were a part of these tests were not told the precautions of sterilization.  At the time most civil-rights leaders claimed sterilization and even birth control was used to regulate or reduce the number  of  births by women of color.

With all the advancements in family planning and contraception, do you think the medical procedure of sterilization should be obsolete?


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