Forced Sterilization in Prisons: Just Another Way to Take Away Women’s Rights

by Oriana Asano

For you girlies who don’t know, compulsory sterilization (or, forced sterilization) is a government program that sterilizes people without their consent. Many countries, even our own, use population control and determined “sexual deviancy” as an excuse to sterilize. Eugenics refers to the practice of cleansing a population of “undesirables” — and distressingly enough, this concept is now being used as a punitive punishment for the incarcerated. Think Aryan Race and Hitler’s “population cleansing”policies. In some countries (France, Italy, Poland, just to name a few), transgendered people have to be sterilized if they want to be legally recognized as the gender of their choice. Unbelievable, I know. 

So basically, forced sterilization is no short of a crime against humanity. And if that’s so, why is it still happening in the United States? America has a wretched, secret history of sterilizing the infirm, the mentally challenged and Native Americans without their knowledge — often as these people were visiting hospitals for other reasons. Yet, sterilizing inmates is not behind us.

In California state prisons, over 150 women have been sterilized under duress because the state doesn’t want to provide welfare to any future children they might have. These women haven’t been forced per se, but are pressured so aggressively by doctors that it’s really not their decision at all. Many Californians don’t know the money in their pockets is funding these procedures. Grossly enough, doctors claim that this is “money well spent.” It seems that instead of withholding welfare from those who need it, we’re just sterilizing women so less people will need it in the future. What a plan. 

If the argument is that sterilization is a preventative measure to ensure future generations won’t be exposed to crime-filled lives, why isn’t this policy extended to male prisoners as well? I’m not advocating for men to be forcibly sterilized as a way to even the playing field, but rather playing Devil’s Advocate. We should ask why our institutions are treating women (mostly women of color) like animals to be neutered? If men can pass along their genes more easily and quicker than women can give birth, wouldn’t the logic support male sterilization too?

It seems that eugenics is a bullshit (and scary!) excuse for pressuring our female inmates. Forced, gendered sterilization seems to fall under the war against reproductive rights in our country. I’m wondering how many other ways the state can come up with to take away our bodily autonomy. The Nation’s Salamishah Tillet articulated this argument well, in a great recent article

What do you think? Is sterilization another way to save on welfare spending, or another weapon wielded against the intersectional women’s movement?

Images courtesy of Wikipedia, Tell Me Now, and The World Post in order of photo appearance.

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