Female inmates were sterilized — as many as 150 of them — in the California corrections system between 2006 and 2010 without the required state approvals after succumbing to pressure from doctors and prison medical staff who suggested the female inmates be sterilized.
During those five years, at least 148 female inmates were signed up for tubal ligation surgeries while they were pregnant, with doctors targeting those they believed were most likely to be incarcerated again and sterilized those inmates, The Center for Investigative Reporting found.
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California outlawed that type of sterilization in 1979, after years of forcing the procedure on prisoners, the mentally ill, and the poor.
From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure on inmates housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men's facility.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, that's not right,'" Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison's infirmary in 2007, told CIROnline.org. "Do they think they're animals, and they don't want them to breed anymore?"
Inmates claim prison doctors repeatedly pressured them to have the procedure.
"As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done," former Valley State inmate Christina Cordero, who gave birth to a son in 2006 while in prison, said. "The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it. He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it. "
Cordero was released in 2008 and says, "today, I wish I would have never had it done."
Dr. James Heinrich, 69, who worked as Valley State's head OB-GYN during the time the procedures were being performed, denied ever pressuring anyone, and said he was providing an important service to women who faced health problems from past cesarean sections. Additional pregnancies would be dangerous for these women, Heinrich said, because scar tissue inside the uterus could tear, resulting in massive blood loss and possible death.
"It was a medical problem that we had to make them aware of," he told CIROnline.org of the push to have certain female inmates sterilized. "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."
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