FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information, please contact:

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727  E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail

Inmate Sterilization, the Continued Assault on Women’s Autonomy

The Center for Investigative Reporting released a report indicating that nearly 150 inmates in two California state prisons were sterilized without state approval between 2006 and 2010. The tubal ligation procedures were in violation of prison rules, but according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners, the state paid doctors $147,460 from 1997 to 2010 to perform these sterilizations. Worse, former inmates interviewed for the story reported that prison medical staff coerced the women, allegedly based on their likelihood of returning to prison.

“This apparent targeting of women in prison and coercing them into sterilization––without state approval––is reminiscent of the eugenics practices of the early 20th century,” said Secular Woman President Kim Rippere. “These women have been manipulated and robbed of their reproductive rights at a time when they were most vulnerable.” The sterilizations echo a disturbing past for the state of California in particular. “Between 1909 and 1964, about 20,000 women and men in California were stripped of the ability to reproduce – making the state the nation’s most prolific sterilizer,” reports the Center for Investigative Reporting. “Historians say Nazi Germany sought the advice of the state’s eugenics leaders in the 1930s.” Racial minorities, the disabled, the poor, criminals, and the mentally ill were targets of compulsory sterilization laws in California and 31 other states.

The number of incarcerated women is increasing at nearly double the rate of men in the United States, with a high number of nonviolent, drug-related offenses; female inmates have disproportionately prevalent histories of physical and sexual abuse. African-American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely to be incarcerated. In the context of these alarming numbers, these recent findings of coerced sterilizations in California prisons seem to be  merely a continuation of California’s dark history of eugenics.

Secular Woman decries this abuse of women already in the vulnerable position of incarceration; we support every woman’s right to body autonomy and are gravely concerned at this attempt to control reproduction by selectively sterilizing groups considered to be unfit to procreate. Tubal ligation is a major surgery for women under the best of circumstances––much more invasive than vasectomy for men––requiring general anesthesia and, also, unlike vasectomy, is irreversible. Reports from former inmates indicate that many were coerced into sterilization while under sedation, in labor, and often based on inaccurate advice regarding their risk factors––for example, based on the idea that women who have had multiple C-sections should be sterilized. “Dr.Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN at San Francisco General Hospital who teaches at UC San Francisco, said it is not common practice to offer tubal ligations to women who’ve had one C-section,” the report stated. “She confirmed that having multiple C-sections increases the risk of complications, but even then, she said, it’s more appropriate to offer women reversible means of birth control, like intrauterine devices or implants.”

This attempt to selectively control women’s reproductive choices has extremely disturbing social and medical implications; furthermore, shaming women into a serious and permanent medical procedure that will impact the rest of their lives is the height of unethical behavior. Secular Woman hopes that, as a result of these findings, swift action will be taken to ensure transparency and proper acquisition of approval for medical procedures in U.S. prisons, to prevent unethical physicians from taking advantage.

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Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: www.SecularWoman.org.

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