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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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California Prison Sterilization Attacks Reproductive Justice of Female Inmates

California Prison Sterilization Attacks Reproductive Justice of Female Inmates

| On 10, Jul 2013

Recently, news has surfaced about California prisons practicing eugenic policies in the form of very clearly coerced sterilization that specifically targeted low-income women and women of color.

Ever since the root of these practices was revealed in the 1970s, pressuring persons to be sterilized has been against the law. And yet more than 148 women received tubal ligations (more commonly referred to as “getting your tubes tied”) in violation of prison rules from 2006 to 2010.

Dr. James Heinrich, one of the OB-GYNs pointed at by the women who underwent these procedures, has defended his actions as being more “cost effective” (keep in mind, spending federal money on sterilizations is illegal … which should be obvious, but apparently it wasn’t always like that) than putting money into welfare for “unwanted” children. Yes, unwanted children. Because low-income women who have are already targeted institutionally and structurally enough to end up in prison are only going to have “unwanted” children.

Not only is the prison system one that disproportionately cycles people of color into impoverishment and crime, but these practices are also specifically being used to eradicate “unwanted” communities. And forced sterilization is a form of eugenics. Eugenics … which is the extermination of the “inferior.” Sound familiar? It’s genocide tactics. Strong language, but true. These tactics are that of gene cleansing, and they’re occurring right in your backyard.

These sterilization techniques are not new and affect women of color here and abroad. It’s important to be aware that the reproductive justice debate needs to be opened up to include capitalistic procedures that fall under eugenics.

Being a feminist in terms of the reproductive justice debate is being more than just the popular definition of pro-choice. It’s being pro-choice for those who choose abortion, and also pro-choice for those who would like to parent – a discussion that is incredibly specific to low-income women and women of color, and a discussion that is entirely excluded from the reproductive justice discourse.

I’m not going to spend much time explaining what’s wrong with forced sterilization – that’s pretty clear, right? And the ideas of forced sterilization are simple and fall into the need to build a world dispelled of the “Other,” which is decided by those in power, who then use their power to coerce and stifle. The fact that the reasoning to target, mislead, and sterilize women is surrounding “cost” reveal a greater issue of the prison industrial complex that exists heavily in American society. Our prison systems are ones that are not effectively rehabilitation centers, but rather places where people who are already disadvantaged are violated.

Inclusive activism, discussion, discourse, and reform is important. I’m not only critiquing how our system functions – in a way of fulfilling power dynamics that continuously oppress the “Other” – whether in color, gender, sexuality, or class – but I’m also commenting on how these issues are not new for the communities they are facing and our discourses need to be open to addressing capitalistic and patriarchal functionalities like eugenics policies.

Justice for one community should not be at the disregard of another. Reproductive justice for some women is different for other women. More than $100,000 has been spent to trick inmates into procedures that stop them from being able to have children. More than $100,000 has been used in California prisons themselves to stop marginalized women from exercising a right to their own body and choice. The prison system as we know it is one that is funded more heavily than our education system, circulates criminals, engages in slave labor, and targets women with eugenics policies.

How much as been spent since then? How much continues to be spent and how many more women have been misled to engage in sterilization? Denying women’s right to choose is more than closing down Planned Parenthood: It’s literally medically altering their bodies.

It’s unfortunate that while people were posting statuses about standing with Wendy, forms of genocide and ethnic cleansing were steadily occurring in our backyard, with our money. Our money, without our consent, is being used to coerce women into invasive operations where minimal information regarding side effects is revealed.

So yeah. Good job, California. Now white cisgender gays and lesbians with class privilege can assimilate into the marriage industrial complex but their joint taxes are funding genocide, and I don’t see anyone changing profile pictures about that.

I’m with Wendy, but I’m also with speaking for every single woman’s choice all the time and everywhere.

Written by Anisha Ahuja

Header image of Cali Farmer, age 4, with her mother Netta Farmer at the California Institute for Women state prison in Chino, California May 5, 2012. Courtesy of Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS


  • Vivid Sammy

    What theee… whoa… I’m flabbergasted, this is terrible.

  • k

    never heard of this until I read this. America, why are you so disappointing?