Moral Low Ground


California Bans Forced Sterilization of Female Prisoners

Valley State Prison, Chowchilla (Cal. Dep't. of Corrections)

Valley State Prison, Chowchilla (Cal. Dep’t. of Corrections)

Following last year’s revelation that female inmates in California prisons were being coercively sterilized as recently as 2010, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed a bill outlawing forced sterilization in the state’s lockups.

Last July, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed 148 female inmates received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006-2010. As many as 100 more women were subjected to the procedure dating back to the 1990s, according to CIR.

Doctors at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla violated state rules requiring a medical review board to examine each case and signed up women for tubal ligations to be performed immediately following their babies’ births.

A May state audit determined that tubal ligations were performed illegally and without informed consent.

“Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent is unacceptable, and violates our most basic human rights,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), the bill’s sponsor, in a statement.

The bill bans sterilization as a birth control method, with exceptions for certain medical emergencies. It was passed unanimously in both the state Assembly and Senate.

Kimberly Jeffrey, a former inmate at Valley State, said she was pressured into sterilization by a doctor while sedated and strapped to a surgical table for a C-section birth in 2010.

“He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?’ ” Jeffrey told CIR. “I’m like, ‘Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don’t want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.’ I went into a straight panic.”

Prison records show Jeffrey rejected tubal ligation in 2009 and again in 2010.

Many women have also been persuaded to undergo voluntary sterilization. Former Valley State Prison inmate Crystal Nguyen, who worked in the prison’s infirmary, said she often overheard medical personnel asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to consent to sterilization.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” Nguyen told CIR. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Los Angeles domestic violence counselor Kelli Dillon was subjected to forced sterilization when she was 24 years old and serving time in a state prison. Dillon said the newly-approved bill “will protect the rightful reproductive capacity of women inside prison.”

“No one should have their opportunity to be a mother taken away or decided for them,” Dillon said in a statement.

California has a long history of forced sterilization in its state prisons. Under a decades-long program of “race betterment,” more than 20,000 male and female prisoners deemed “unfit to propagate” underwent forced sterilization between 1909 and 1964.

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