“Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval”

Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.

From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

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,’ ” said Nguyen, 28. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

One former Valley State inmate who gave birth to a son in October 2006 said the institution’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, repeatedly pressured her to agree to a tubal ligation.

from The Sacramento Bee.

It seems a number of regulations were ignored, and the women themselves did not give what would be considered “informed consent”:

“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.”

This is of concern because the U.S. has a very ugly history with regards to involuntary sterilization – a history many Americans don’t even know about (reading this pbs blurb you’d think eugenics somehow ended around the time World War II did, for example*).

North Carolina formally shut down its discredited Eugenics Board in 1977. The rate of sterilizations in North Carolina picked up after World War II despite unfavorable comparisons to Nazi eugenics, and peaked in the 1950s.

from Los Angeles Times

While much reporting on eugenics or involuntary sterilization describe “mentally ill” or “disabled” people as the victims, the definition of “defective” included not only criminal tendencies but also  “promiscuity”, “illiteracy” and “pauperism” (that is, being poor).

Birth Control propaganda is thus the entering wedge for the Eugenic educator….Upon this basis only may we improve the quality of the race.

As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit”, admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.

Birth Control is not advanced as a panacea by which past and present evils of dysgenic breeding can be magically eliminated. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism….

– Margaret Sanger, “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” Oct 1921.

via NYU

Rationalization ranged from protecting the potential offspring of mentally disabled parents to improving the overall health and intellectual competence of the human race.North Carolina had the most open-ended law in the country, allowing doctors and social workers to refer people living at home to the state Eugenics Board for possible sterilization. In other states, people had to be either institutionalized or jailed before they could be sterilized.

Most of the victims were mental health patients, prisoners, poor or people the state deemed to be promiscuous. Roughly 85 percent were women or girls, some as young as 10.

from WRAL.com

*The logic that justified sterilizing “mental defectives” against their will was approved by the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell in 1927, and was overturned by the Supreme Court in Skinner v. Oklahoma in 1942. This is apparently what PBS refers to.