California sterilization ban: Why it was needed

California sterilization ban: Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that bans prisons from sterilizing inmates without their consent. The ban came after an investigative media project found 150 women in California had been sterilized from 2006 to 2010.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that bans prisons from sterilizing inmates without their consent, his office said on Thursday, after media reports and a later audit showed officials failed to obtain consent from dozens of incarcerated women.

The bill prohibits sterilizations of inmates as a means of birth control in correctional facilities except for when a patient's life is in danger or when there is a medical need and no less drastic alternatives are available.

The bill passed both the state's assembly and senate chambers unanimously last month.

"Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent is unacceptable, and violates our most basic human rights," said the bill's author, state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, in a statement.

The measure was introduced earlier this year in the wake of allegations, first highlighted by the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting, that the state failed to obtain informed consent from some female inmates who had their fallopian tubes tied.

The Sacramento Bee reported:

From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men's prison.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future....

In an interview with CIR, Heinrich said he provided an important service to poor women who faced health risks in future pregnancies because of past Caesarean sections. The 69-year-old Bay Area physician denied pressuring anyone and expressed surprise that local contract doctors had charged for the surgeries. He described the $147,460 total as minimal.

"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."

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An audit released in June showed that errors were made in getting proper consent from 39 women inmates out of 144 who underwent the procedure while incarcerated between 2005 and 2011.

Prison rules make the procedure, known as tubal ligation, available to inmates as part of regular obstetrical care. But until the issue was broached in 2010 by an inmates' rights group, proper authorization was rarely obtained, the state auditor's report said.

The audit was a blow to the state's troubled prison system and came as California struggles to meet court-ordered demands to improve medical and mental healthcare in its overcrowded prisons.

Medical care in California's prisons has been under the supervision of a federally appointed receiver since 2006.

Earlier this month, a top Arizona Republican Party official and former lawmaker  resigned after saying women on Medicaid should be required to use birth control or be sterilized.

Former state Senate President Russell Pearce stepped down as the party's first vice-chairman following a firestorm of criticism leveled against him by both Republicans and Democrats.

Pearce made the comments about the federal-state healthcare program for the poor amid a broader discussion of welfare abuses during his radio show earlier this month.

"You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I'd do is get a woman Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations ...," Pearce said. "Then we'll test recipients for drugs and alcohol and nicotine" and if women want to reproduce or use drugs or alcohol, "then get a job."

(David Schwartz contributed from Phoenix. Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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