National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Calif. Prison Physicians Sterilized Women Without Approval, Investigation Finds

Calif. Prison Physicians Sterilized Women Without Approval, Investigation Finds

July 9, 2013 — Physicians under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized at least 148 female prisoners between 2006 and 2010 without required state approval, the Center for Investigative Reporting/Sacramento Bee reports. CIR's investigation found that perhaps an additional 100 sterilizations occurred since the late 1990s.

Federal and state laws prohibit the use of federal funds for inmate sterilizations, in part because of concern that inmates might feel pressured to comply. Under California law, state funds may be used for sterilizations, but the procedures require case-by-case approval from the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp, which oversees medical care at the state's 33 prisons.

According to the investigation, female inmates were signed up for the procedure while pregnant and incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. The state paid physicians a total of $147,460 between 1997 and 2010 to perform the procedures.

Former prison inmates and prisoner-rights advocates contend that the women were coerced by prison medical staff, who targeted inmates they deemed likely to commit future crimes, CIR/Bee reports.

Prison Medical Staff, Former Inmates Comment

Ob-gyn James Heinrich -- who performed sterilizations at Valley State Prison -- said in an interview with CIR that he provided a necessary service to women who faced health risks in future pregnancies because of past caesarean sections. He added that he never pressured inmates to undergo the procedure and that he only offered it to women who had at least three previous c-sections.

However, various inmates contacted by CIR said Heinrich pressured them to be sterilized, that their attempts to decline the procedure were ignored or that they had not had more than three c-sections.

Psychologist Daun Martin -- top medical manager at Valley State from 2005 to 2008 contended that the surgeries empowered inmates by providing them with the same options available to women outside of prison (Johnson, CIR/Sacramento Bee, 7/7).