Almost 250 female inmates in the California prison system were sterilized — some after being pressured by doctors — between 1997 and 2010, according to a a new report. The report conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting quoted women that had felt pestered into getting tubal ligations at both the California Institution for Women in Corona and the Valley State Prison for Women In Chowchilla.
During her C-section while giving birth to her son in 2010, Kimberly Jeffrey said her doctor tried to pressure her into getting tubal ligation while she had already been strapped down and sedated. Although Jeffrey had refused the operation multiple times previously, the doctor still pushed it on her. “He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?” said Jeffrey. “I’m like, ‘Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don’t want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.’” After that she said she “went into straight panic,” and still refused to have the procedure done.
Other women, on the other hand, seemingly were happy to agree to the procedure, including Nikki Montano, who had the tubal ligation done after the birth of her seventh child. Montano was jailed in 2008 for burglary, forgery and receiving stolen property all while battling a drug addiction. Still, it’s troubling that Montano claimed she didn’t know why the procedure was being done. “I figured that’s just what happens in prison – that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going to get,” said Montano. “He never told me nothing about nothing.” Montano nevertheless believes she has ultimately benefitted from the procedure.
Another inmate, Christina Cordero, also felt pressured from her doctor. “As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it,” she told CIR. “He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it.” Cordero said she now wishes she had never gotten the procedure done.
According to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners, doctors were paid $147,460 from 1997 to 2010 to perform the procedure. Although Valley State Prison’s OB-GYN Dr. James Heinrich denied ever pressuring women to get tubal ligations, he believes the procedure’s cost is lower in comparison to money spent on government welfare for unplanned children. He also accused the women who claimed they were “forced” into tubal litigations of lying and looking for a handout.
An expert on sterilization and a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Dorothy Roberts explained in the report, “courts have concluded that soliciting approval for sterilization during labor is coercive because pain and discomfort can impair a woman’s ability to weigh the decision.” She added, “No woman should give consent on the operating table.” Truly this country’s conception of reproductive rights and reproductive justice for all has a long way to go.
[Photo of a woman in prison via Shutterstock]