Stop Illegal Sterilization of Female Inmates

Chain Gang

Target: CA Law Revision Committee

Goal: Ensure that women in California prisons are not being coerced into signing up for permanent sterilization

Forced sterilization has been illegal since 1979. Despite this, two prisons in California have “signed up at least 150 pregnant women up for permanent sterilization to be performed after they gave birth, without following the required state approval procedure”. That alone would not be too detrimental to the prisons’ reputation if not for the fact that some of the women say they were coerced. Though coercion cannot be proven, measures should be taken to ensure that the prisons definitely aren’t coercing any of their female inmates.

For four years (2006-2010) at the California Institute for Women, CIR, in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, now a men’s prison, the approval process did not occur.

There are a number of laws in place to prevent institutions from performing the sterilization procedure unless consent is freely and fully given by the patient. Also, the sterilization procedure cannot be legally performed on a patient who is pregnant or in labor. And lastly, federal funding cannot be used to pay for the procedure in prison.

CIR’s report states that many of the sterilization procedures were conducted as a “medical emergency”, which allows the procedure to bypass reviews. Some doctors stated during their interviews that they didn’t know there were any restrictions on the sterilization procedure. One doctor expressed the opinion that the procedure saved the state of California money by keeping unwanted children out of the state.

Some of the inmates have reported feeling pressured by staff to sterilize themselves after their pregnancies. Others felt that they were happy to receive the procedure, but also conceded that they would have preferred other, less permanent options.

There are laws and there are precautions, but what these woman need is a witness. Someone who will ensure that they are given a medical reason for their procedure if it is being done for as a medical emergency, that they will be presented with other options, and that they are not coerced or persuaded to accept the procedure in anyway.


Dear Brian Hebert of the CA Law Revision Committee,

Reports of coerced acceptance of sterilization procedures are still being filed by inmates in California. Over 150 inmates were permanently sterilized in the past few years in two prisons alone. Therefore, the laws regarding the procedure need further revision.

Please suggest to your peers that a witness be provided to each inmate who is due to undergo the procedure. That witness will be able to attest, in court if need be, that the female inmate was presented with every option available and that she was no way coerced.

For four years, women in the California Institute for Women received the procedure without any sort of medical review. Please revise the law so that cannot happen again.

Thank you for your time.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Jim Lo Scalzo via EPA

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