Doctors working for the California prison system illegally sterilized 148 female inmates without required state approvals between 2006 and 2010, according to a new study by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The investigators concluded that as many as 100 additional women may have been coerced into undergoing tubal ligation surgeries dating back to 1997.
The doctors, working under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, reportedly targeted pregnant women at the California Institution for Women in Corona and the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, who were deemed by physicians as being likely to return to prison in the future. One of the doctors, Dr. James Heinrich, denied pressuring anyone, saying he merely offered the surgery to inmates who were at risk of having unsafe pregnancies in the future.
That didn't satisfy critics who saw the program as a gross violation of the women's rights — forced sterilization of prisoners and the mentally ill have been banned in the state since 1979, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. Laura Beck at Jezebel says the program is proof that "we're currently living in a dystopian future horror fest." It is hardly surprising, she says, that the women — who were, after all, behind bars — did not take the pressure as a caring doctor's friendly suggestion.
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Heinrich, a former OB-GYN at the prison, said the program, at a cost of $147,460, actually yielded health benefits for women facing potentially risky childbirth because of past caesarians. "Over a 10-year period, that isn't a huge amount of money," Heinrich reportedly told the researchers, "compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more."
That quote, included in the report, triggered an avalanche of outrage from commentators. Jason Easley at Politics USA said it suggested that — as one inmate remarked — the doctors were treating the inmates like animals they didn't want to allow to breed any more.
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