A horrifying picture of modern-day eugenics is emerging in California, the state that was once known as the country’s most prolific sterilizer, with as many 20,000 people losing their ability to procreate between 1909 to 1964. They were so well-known for their practice of preventing the ‘inferior’ from breeding that historians say Nazi Germany contacted the state’s eugenics leaders in the 1930s. You know they must have been doing something terribly, terribly wrong if Hitler was seeking their advice.
That shameful past is coming back to haunt the state as a new report emerges that almost 150 female prison inmates were sterilized between 2006 and 2010 without state approval. The report released by The Center for Investigative Reporting claims that at least 148 women received tubal ligations during that time frame. Records show that between 1997 and 2010 the state paid $147,460 to doctors to perform the surgery on inmates.
According to advocates and prison inmates, the staff targeted women they believed would return to prison in the future. OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, who worked at Valley State Prison for Women claims the practice was one that helped poor women who faced the possibility of developing complications from future cesarean sections. Which is entirely possible but not his real motivation, as he goes on to explain. The good doctor commented on the cost effectiveness of the surgeries, claiming that the money spent was not a very large amount, all things considered.
“Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money,” Heinrich said, “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more. They all wanted it done,” he said of the sterilizations. “If they come a year or two later saying, ‘Somebody forced me to have this done,’ that’s a lie. That’s somebody looking for the state to give them a handout.” [Source]
Well, isn’t he thoughtful? Heinrich is named by inmates as one of the doctors who routinely coerced and pressured them into having the procedure, most of the time, according to patients, without even explaining why they’d need it. Really, though, he was doing the right thing.
Not only is it morally wrong to pressure women into having this procedure, it is against the law. Federal law makes it illegal to use federal funds to pay for inmate sterilizations. California state law requires that before state funds be released to pay for the procedure, the Health Care Review Committee approve each surgery on a case by case basis. This, however, did not happen; no requests were submitted to the review board.
Dr. Ricki Barnett who tracks costs and procedures for the California Prison Health Care Receivership told prison officials to halt the sterilization practices after being alerted to the matter by a state senator. In the meetings over the unapproved tubal ligations, Barnett makes a disturbing claim about officials involved:
The 16-year-old restriction on tubal ligations seemed to be news to prison health administrators, doctors, nurses and the contracting physicians, Barnett recalled. And, she said, none of the doctors thought they needed permission to perform the surgery on inmates.
“Everybody was operating on the fact that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do,” she said.
Everybody thought that it was perfectly reasonable?! Da’fuq???!!!! That is perhaps the most disgusting revelation about the whole story: they thought it was okay. Pressuring women, who have hit rock bottom, into giving up their ability to ever have another child again is totally reasonable. In what world, you ask? In the world of people like Dr. Heinrich, that’s where.
Heinrich all but admitted he was asking women, who he determined would likely be on welfare, to have the procedure. Because we shouldn’t have to pay for all of those ‘unwanted’ babies. Gee, wonder what his political affiliation is?
These procedures were not medically necessary; it was his personal disgust for these women that drove him to push the surgery on them. He is of the mindset that they do not deserve to have children, they are not worthy. He is cleansing the gene pool, one inmate at a time. Seem too harsh? A little accusatory? Wrong? Nope, his own words prove that that was his mission. This doctor wanted to prevent these undesirable women from having any kids. He, and the rest of the officials involved, were their judge, jury and executioners. That is the very definition of eugenics.
Sure, the women had to approve the surgery, but under what conditions did they say yes? At least one woman said they asked while she was strapped down and in labor. What better time to carry out the nefarious plot than during the most painful experience many women will ever go through. You know, they’re always in their right mind to consent then! I would have agreed to shaving my head bald and tap dancing naked when I was in labor. That is why asking for consent during labor is a big no-no in the eyes of the courts. It’s one of those times when you cannot be considered for informed consent.
The procedures have stopped but the damage is done. Unfortunately for California, they just can’t seem to get away from their dark, horrible history. They’ve repeated it already, on a much smaller scale, but repeated it nonetheless. This is a case of an extreme abuse of power and it is absolutely, completely, and utterly deplorable. Sadly, the women involved could be awarded a judgement if they choose to sue but nothing can ever right this wrong. Absolutely nothing will rectify this situation.