Sterilizations of inmates within the United States prison system have been banned from being federally funded for decades. However, it has recently come to light that the state of California allegedly used state funds, without required approval from Sacramento medical officials, to have hundreds of female inmates forcibly sterilized in California prisons over the last several years.
The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) revealed that between 2006 and 2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation allegedly had contracted doctors perform coerced tubal ligation sterilizations, also known as having the fallopian tubes clamped, or “tubes tied,” on an estimated 148 female inmates. Nearly 100 additional women purportedly received tubal sterilization as far back as the late 1990s. The female inmates who were forced into sterilization were incarcerated at the Valley State Prison in Chowchilla and the California Institution for Women in Corona, both located in California, during the years the sterilization allegedly took place.
Former prisoners claim that prison staff strong-armed certain female inmates, especially those pregnant or more likely to end up in prison again, to receive sterilization. Pregnant inmates were specifically targeted, especially those who had previous pregnancies that resulted in three or more C-sections, said Dr. James Heinrich, an Ob-Gyn at Valley State. Heinrich claims that the sterilizations were never forced, but admitted that the procedure was offered to pregnant inmates who had three or more C-sections from previous pregnancies.
“It was a medical problem that we had to make them aware of,” Heinrich stated to the CIR. “It’s up to the doctor who’s delivering (your baby) … to make you aware of what’s going on. We’re at risk for not telling them.”
However, claims from inmates imprisoned during the years the forced sterilization allegedly took place paints a different picture. According to News Inferno, Michelle Anderson, who gave birth while imprisoned at Valley State, claims that despite having only one C-section from a previous pregnancy, she was repeatedly pressured into undergoing a sterilization procedure. Kimberly Jeffrey, who was also pregnant while imprisoned at Valley State, alleges that while she was sedated and strapped down on a gurney in preparation for her C-section delivery, doctors pressured her to be sterilized.
“He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?’”, Jeffrey told the 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.”
Jeffrey, who is currently free and working as an advocate for the improvement of conditions for female inmates, adds, “Being treated like I was less than human produced in me a despair.”
Krysta Loera is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.