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Nuts & Bolts

July 9, 2013

California prisons illegally sterilizing female inmates as recently as 2010

NEW YORK — Although it never got the kind of coverage that abortion rights did, forced sterilization was another reproductive rights violation that plagued women in the 20th century. The practice gradually disappeared as the concept of reproductive autonomy took hold in our national consciousness. Or we thought it did. But a new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) suggests that as recently as 2010, California prisons were coercing women into permanent sterilization by skipping over protocols put in place to prevent such coercion.

In California, a health care committee is supposed to authorize prisoner tubal litigations in order to prevent abuses, but from 2006 to 2010, 148 women were sterilized by doctors who just skipped that step. The Center for Investigative Reporting says there may be as many as 100 more cases dating back to the 1990s.

CIR interviewed doctors who were involved in sterilizations in California prisons, and comments from these doctors only raise suspicion that they supported a system of bullying and frightening women into agreeing to sterilizations they did not want. James Heinrich is accused by at least one inmate of badgering her about sterilization until she caved, and his comments about the money spent by the state on these procedures are not very reassuring.

"Over a 10-year period, that isn't a huge amount of money," Heinrich said, "compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more."

"Unwanted" by whom? The women themselves or Heinrich? Christina Cordero, who was sterilized by Heinrich, says she wished she hadn't had the tubal litigation. So perhaps any child she might have conceived would have been wanted.

Another doctor who worked for the California prison system was recorded spouting right-wing urban legends about people who "want" to be in prison for the supposedly great health care.

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