Report: California prison doctors sterilized women by coercion

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) published a report that found doctors had sterilized close to 150 female prisoners at a California prison from the years 2006 to 2010 without obtaining approval from state authorities. Many of the inmates had claimed they were forced to undergo the surgery.

The women were coerced into the surgery while they were pregnant and stationed at the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now an institution for male prisoners.

What may perhaps shock many is that, according to state documents reviewed by journalists, doctors who were under contract to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations and were paid $147,640, might have actually completed approximately 250 total tubal ligations in the past two decades.

Christina Cordero, an inmate who was released in 2008, is one of the ex-prisoners who were interviewed regarding the matter. Cordero explained she was coerced into the sterilization program by Dr. James Heinrich, the prison’s OB-GYN, after she gave birth to her son in 2006.

“As soon as [the institution’s OB-GYN Dr. James Heinrich] 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. He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it,” explained Cordero. “Today, I wish I would have never had it done.”

Crystal Nguyen was another ex-inmate who was asked for her story, in which she stated she overheard medical staff urging prisoners to agree to be sterilized. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’” said Nguyen. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Dr. Heinrich defended himself and the institution’s acts because he feels he performed an important service to those women who are in danger of experiencing numerous health factors from past cesarean sections. However, Heinrich denied anyone was forced to be sterilized and was also surprised that local physicians had charged for the surgeries, but didn’t condemn it.

“Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money, compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more,” stated Heinrich.

The reported allegations are similar to ones made 50 years ago when The Golden State had sterilized the mentally incompetent, the impecunious and prisoners using force. It took state lawmakers many years (1979) to ban these sterilizing initiatives. Forced sterilizing has been commonplace throughout history, including in the United States, Canada and Nazi Germany. In 1907, the state of Indiana became the first to pass a mandatory forced sterilization law for the “feebleminded.” California and Washington passed similar laws in 1909.

“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind,” said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Buck vs. Bell U.S. Supreme Court case that attempted to conclude these laws did not violate the Constitution.