Forced sterilization is a foreign concept to most, something reserved for the depths of sci-fi films, horror novels, and the darkest annals of humankind’s history. Or, so most would like to think. The truth is that sterilization is deeply entrenched in much history, wound up in the likes of eugenics, social Darwinism, and Nazi activities. Sadly, neither American shores nor modern times are immune to these horrors, as was brought to light by the shocking news coming from California that nearly 150 female inmates were sterilized between 2006 and 2010.
Doctors working under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation performed these illegal procedures without state approval and with complete disregard of prison rules. Multiple accounts suggest that the doctors were coercive in their tactics, targeting women who were either repeat offenders or likely to become such. Crystal Nguyen, a former inmate of one of the prisons, worked in the infirmary, and said that she heard doctors asking women to consent to sterilization. Another former inmate, Christina Cordero, agreed to the procedure and says she wished she had never gotten it done.
State documents and other interviews suggest that there could be nearly 100 more cases of sterilization dating back to the 1990’s. A database of medical procedures for state inmates indicates that the state allotted over $147,000 for the procedures from 1997 to 2010. The use of state funds for sterilization in general has been illegal in California since 1994, with exceptions requiring approval from “top medical officials,” done on a case-by-case basis. Doctors and prison officials involved claim that they were unaware of the ban.
There is evidence that suggests a long history of California’s involvement in eugenics and social Darwinism, such as the the Asexualization Act of 1909 and possible linkage to Hitler’s Nazi programs during World War II. Articles discussing both of these topics can be found here and here. The writer also suggests the novel “Home” by Toni Morrison for a fictional (but based-on-true-events) account of forced sterilization, as well as the history and impact of eugenics in the United States.