According to the Center For Investigative Reporting, two Californian prisons performed hundreds of unapproved and coerced sterilizations on female inmates between 2006 and 2010.
It's illegal to pay for inmate sterilization using federal funds, but it appears that some prisons bypassed this law by using close to $150,000 in state funds for the procedure—rather than approving funds on a case-by-case, legal basis.
Approval was apparently not given, or even applied for, in the case of the procedures in Corona's California Institution for Women or Chowchill's Valley State Prison. In four years, nearly 150 women were illegally sterilized—and the CIR notes that the number might be significantly higher: at least 250.
Many of the women who underwent the surgery later told the CIR that they felt pressured into it, and were made to feel like "bad mothers" if they didn't. "Today, I wish I would never have had it done," one woman said. Another source says she was on the surgical table for her C-section when doctors tried to convince her to have the sterilization then and there.
"He said, 'So we're going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?'" said Kimberly Jeffrey, who now campaigns for better conditions for female prisoners. "I'm like, 'Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don't want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.' I went into a straight panic." It's also against the law for any doctor to try and persuade anyone to get sterilized during another medical procedure. (Jeffrey's hospital records confirmed that she repeatedly refused sterilization.)
Several of the women named Valley State's OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, as having personally pressured them. When asked by the CIR, Heinrich denied pressuring anyone, and said he'd had no idea the procedure hadn't been free. Heinrich added that he was providing a service to poor women who faced health risks to future pregnancies because of previous C-sections.
The report sheds uncomfortable light on a past California would rather forget: eugenics. Between 1909 and 1964, California joined a host of other states in passing compulsory sterilization laws: the mentally ill, the disabled, and other minorities were forcibly sterilized. Nazi Germany was actually inspired by the state's 20,000 sterilizations, seeking advice from state eugenic leaders in the 1930s.
You know a practice is pretty awful if the words 'Nazi Germany' and 'inspired' follow it.