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Bill Aims to Keep California Prisons From Sterilizing Women Without State Approval

Posted on Apr 22, 2014

madamepsychosis (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Center for Investigative Reporting found in a study last year that between 2006 and 2010 prison doctors signed up over 150 female inmates to get their “tubes tied” while they were pregnant in order to avoid future pregnancies.

Several of the women who underwent the operation, though not forced to do so, have claimed they were coerced or misinformed by prison staff. One inmate explains, “I figured that’s just what happens in prison.”

For almost a hundred years since the 1927 Supreme Court ruling Buck v. Bell, “forcible sterilization” on prisoners has been backed by U.S. law. To add insult to injury, the decision was accompanied by the following statement by then-Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Imbeciles certainly had a lot to do with this ruling, but it seems it was the men dressed in judge’s robes who deserved the moniker.

And while federal funding for the procedure has already been banned, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation allegedly allocated state funds toward paying physicians $147,460 to perform the procedures.

But according to one OB-GYN at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowcilla, Calif., “this is money well-spent.” 

[Dr. James Heinrich] states that, “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.”

This month, a bill was presented to the California Senate Health Committee that aims to “close loopholes” that allowed the tubal sterilization to occur without state medical officials’ approval.


According to Justice Now, a human rights organization that partners with women in prison, California’s Prison Sterilization Prohibition bill (SB 1135) was written in collaboration with people who experienced sterilization abuse.

Courtney Hooks, Justice Now’s campaign and communications director, told “The Stream,” “The bill aims to try to find a way to reinforce and enhance the existing law so people can be protected.”

She said officials—often contracted out by institutions of confinement—were a large contributor to the abuses, as they claim they were not aware of the law. This bill calls for relevant laws to be incorporated into staff training sessions.

The bill further requires inmates to have access to a second medical opinion, psychological consultation and medical follow-ups.

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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