Female inmates in California pressured into sterilizations

The California Department of Corrections has been coercing pregnant female inmates to undergo sterilization for more than a decade.

Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years — and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.

One former Valley State inmate who gave birth to a son in October 2006 said the institution’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, repeatedly pressured her to agree to a tubal ligation.

“As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it,” said Christina Cordero, 34, who spent two years in prison for auto theft. “He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it.”

Cordero, released in 2008 and now living in Upland, agreed to the procedure. “Today,” she said, “I wish I would have never had it done.”

Heinrich insists that he didn’t pressure any of the women and said that the $147,000 paid to local doctors for the procedure “isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more.”

Since 1994, sterilizations using state funds have required approval on a case-by-case basis from medical officials in Sacramento — but no such requests have come before the approval committee since the receiver began overseeing medical care in 2006. While Valley State medical manager Daun Martin denies approving the surgeries at her prison, contract records show that at least 60 tubal ligations were done there while she was in charge.

Martin, they Valley State Prison medical manager, said she and her staff had discovered the procedure was restricted five years earlier. Someone had complained about the sterilization of an inmate, Martin recalled. That prompted Martin to research the prison’s medical rules.

Martin told CIR that she and Heinrich began to look for ways around the restrictions. Both believed the rules were unfair to women, she said.

“I’m sure that on a couple of occasions, (Heinrich) brought an issue to me saying, ‘Mary Smith is having a medical emergency’ kind of thing, ‘and we ought to have a tubal ligation. She’s got six kids. Can we do it?'” Martin said. “And I said, ‘Well, if you document it as a medical emergency, perhaps.'”

Heinrich said he offered tubal ligations only to pregnant inmates with a history of at least three C-sections. Additional pregnancies would be dangerous for these women, Heinrich said, because scar tissue inside the uterus could tear.

Former inmates tell a different story.

Michelle Anderson, who gave birth in December 2006 while at Valley State, said she’d had one prior C-section. Anderson, 44, repeatedly was asked to agree to be sterilized, she said, and was not told what risk factors led to the requests. She refused.

Nikki Montano also had had one C-section before she landed at Valley State in 2008, pregnant and battling drug addiction.

Montano, 42, was serving time after pleading guilty to burglary, forgery and receiving stolen property. The mother of seven children, she said neither Heinrich nor the medical staff told her why she needed a tubal ligation.

“I figured that’s just what happens in prison — that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going to get,” Montano said. “He never told me nothing about nothing.”

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15 Responses

  1. gratuitous_violet
    gratuitous_violet July 7, 2013 at 10:56 pm |

    The banality with which the medical professionals in the article discuss what they did is disturbing. One of them even referred to the practice as an “empowerment” issue for inmates. (Which has a grain of truth, but putting this particular procedure in context of “choice” is incredibly fucking galling all on its own.)

    What’s even more disturbing is how widespread the belief that criminals should forfeit every single human right upon conviction, judging from the comment section. (NB, if casual dehumanization and amateur eugenecists upset you, stay out of the comments.)

    Yet another failing of the mainstream repro rights movement. Prison/police reform should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list, as nothing shows our society’s fundamental beliefs faster than how we treat those we’ve decided deserve to be at our collective mercy.

  2. Kristen from MA
    Kristen from MA July 7, 2013 at 11:26 pm |

    Heads had better roll because of this.

  3. Kaia
    Kaia July 8, 2013 at 4:43 am |

    Considering how many inmates can get raped by the guards, this is probably why he thought it was a good idea.

  4. Miranda
    Miranda July 8, 2013 at 8:38 am |

    Jesus. My friend sent me this this morning, and I rubbed my eyes thinking that I was reading the date wrong.

  5. chava
    chava July 8, 2013 at 9:01 am |

    bwwwagh. So, it is (almost equally) disturbing that women were not legally allowed tubal litigations, even if specifically requested, although it is certainly understandable why the law seemed necessary.

    The rationale of the doctor involved seems reasonable at first–if you’re offering this to women who have had 3+ c-sections, yes, it’s a v. legitimate medical option at that point. But then we have this gem of a quote:
    “Over a 10-year period, that [his fee] 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.”

    Ugh, just ugh.

    1. Asia
      Asia July 8, 2013 at 6:53 pm |

      These women were vulnerable to their doctors and probably didn’t feel empowered to be able to say no. I do think as a general practice anyone with a medical history of multiple unplanned pregnancies should be offered free long-term birth control with sterilization as a last option. However, inmates are in a situation that leaves them very open to exploitation.

      Also, I noted that the women quoted are in their forties. They would have only needed a IUD or Depo Provera shot for another couple years.

  6. rox
    rox July 8, 2013 at 10:20 am |

    “Considering how many inmates can get raped by the guards, this is probably why he thought it was a good idea.”

    If that were his concern he could have offered the women birth control in the form of hormonal birth control or an IUD or something of the sort. Something reversible at the woman’s discretion.

    I have a family member adopted from prison. Her biological mother was in prison for using drugs and “prostitution” at 14.

    IN JAIL? I find it hard to believe that the men she was services were all under 18– we’re putting children in jail for being sex trafficked. A child who is impregnated by sex trafficking should be whisked away to a place where they can get empowering rehab, trauma services, and a lot of compassion. In addition to family friendly services that work to help her rehabilitate her health and ability to mother and nurture with assistance from people who will help do some of the nurturing while she recovers.

    Not throwing women who have been abused, neglected as children, and turned to drugs and abusive men to find family in jail and sterilizing them because they are “bad” and could never love their children.

    There are crimes which I feel it would be understandable to be concerned about future parenting and that includes crimes of assault, physical or sexual against children. I understand why people who work with monstrous people in prison get numb to anyone in the system as a dehumanized person.

    But we know for sure there are people in there who are truly victims of a system that failed their family, failed them, and is now punishing them for it’s own crimes against the poor, the ill, and the needy. To make it ok to break women down psychologically into believing they can never be good parents to their existing children, or if they have a child again; one wonders who the criminals are.

    Helping women avoid unwanted pregnancy can be an empowering thing— but deciding for a woman that she is not good enough to parent is a pretty big deal. I think we all want children to not be abused or raised by people who don’t want them– and that is a good sentiment- but I think we have a lot of really great tools to help reduce that from happening and we need to implement the humane ways of preventing women from creating children they will not love, or abuse. (That includes having much more extensive parent support and healing programs for parents of all income to recover from past trauma, their own neglect and the ways they carry on the harmful parenting techniques they experienced etc.)

    1. Asia
      Asia July 8, 2013 at 7:08 pm |

      “Not throwing women who have been abused, neglected as children, and turned to drugs and abusive men to find family in jail and sterilizing them because they are “bad” and could never love their children.”

      I don’t think their saying the women are “bad” or can’t love their children. I think their saying that the women can’t care for the kids. I know in IL if a inmate gives birth she has to either find a family member or friend willing to care for the child until her release or the child enters foster care. She also only has 3 days after the birth to have said arrangements finalized.

      The doctor seems to believe that the majority of the children his patients had went into welfare or the foster system. I strongly doubt his assumption.

  7. Athenia
    Athenia July 8, 2013 at 10:38 am |

    I was gonna to write “Why didn’t the doctors encourage them to get IUDs?” but then I remembered that these ladies probably wouldn’t have access to medical care to take them out when the time came and voila! Here we are. RAGE.

  8. xenu01
    xenu01 July 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

    This is rage-inducing. This is also a continuation/return of eugenics. Eugenics- which both inspired birth control pills and Hitler.

    I have been trying to formulate a response to this all day and all I have is RAGE.

  9. Barnacle Strumpet
    Barnacle Strumpet July 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm |

    Daun Martin, a licensed psychologist, also claimed that some pregnant women, particularly those on drugs or who were homeless, would commit crimes so they could return to prison for better health care.

    Wow. Here’s hoping that “licensed” is an outdated descriptor for her soon. For Heinrich too.

    1. Athenia
      Athenia July 9, 2013 at 9:21 am |

      Does she mean *jail* or *prison* cuz there’s a difference. You don’t need to get convicted (prison) to receive health care in jail (not convicted).

  10. taz
    taz July 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm |

    OMG! What the heck is this? Is this Germany of WW2? Are the Nazi’s running this? This sure sounds like it is! Who died and made these quacks some type of god? This is something like what we tried the Nazi’s on!
    I think that heinrich and Martin should have a sterilezation done on them! I would say on their brains, but they don’t seem to really use theirs! Where is the DA on these people? Where are the court cases about all of this? Where the heck is Holders Justice Department? Why are these people still walking around free? Those two at least should be behind bars for life!!!!! They shouldn’t be called Doctor at all! They should have a brand new address, One right in the cell block next door to some of these women! Each and everyone involved with this should be behind bars! On a chain gang doing hard labor!

  11. Funty
    Funty July 10, 2013 at 11:20 am |

    Finding a job is hard.
    Finding a well paid job is hard.
    Finding a job you can work as a mother is hard.
    A one that pays enough for you and your kid…you guessed it.

    Getting a job with a conviction record…yep.
    Well paid…conviction record? ….
    Mother with a conviction record…legitimate employment? Hahaha.
    Convict, mother, well paid? HAHAHAHAHA.

    What a set up.

    However, got no problem telling anyone that rearing kids is hard work, focus on the one/s you’ve got. Struggling at a something that’s hard doesn’t make you bad, stupid or wrong.
    “Unless you are already perfection personified, give up, never say anything and never try” is an attitude that really holds us back.

  12. Radfem
    Radfem July 14, 2013 at 3:22 am |

    Does she mean *jail* or *prison* cuz there’s a difference. You don’t need to get convicted (prison) to receive health care in jail (not convicted).

    Actually in California, because of something called Realignment, the lines between the two are somewhat blurred. Our state penal system was sued by the feds due to among other things, overcrowding and the state prisons are under a federal court order to release tens of thousands of inmates to relieve overcrowding.

    Mostly “non-violent” offenders. What this did is it shifted a lot of the state penal jurisdictional issues on “non-violent” offenders from the state to the counties and from State Parole to County Probation which now serves as “Parole” for certain “non-violent” offenders. Many jails now serve as penal institutions for people convicted of “non-violent” felonies rather than just misdemeanors. Not surprisingly huge problems including elevated crime rates especially in county seats (and my city’s crime rate doubled in just 12 months plus officer-involved shootings of subjects with firearms increased five fold) which receive more than their “share” of parolees anyway never mind Realignment. Also, the state passed on the responsibilities of these state inmates to the Counties but passed along very little to no state funding for the Counties.

    So in some sense jails can be seen as lower level penal institutions in California (where the sterilization article takes place) just without the appropriate funding.

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