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California prisons under investigation for illegally sterilizing female inmates

State of California Earl Warren building  in San Francisco, California. The U.S.
State of California Earl Warren building in San Francisco, California. The U.S.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Four California prisons illegally sterilized 39 women over a 6-year period, a damning new report by the California State Auditors have revealed that 39 out of 144 female inmates at Folsom Women’s Facility in Folsom, CA, Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison for Women, both located in Chowchilla, and the California Institution for Women in Corona had their tubes tied illegally, though they suspect the number may actually be higher after finding that 7 records at one hospital had been “lost in a routine purging. The sterilizations in question were performed during the fiscal years 2005-2006 to 2012-2013.
More formerly known as tubal ligation or tubectomy, the operation is performed under spinal anesthesia and involves having a woman's fallopian tubes clamped and blocked, (or severed and sealed) to prevent her eggs from reaching the uterus for fertilization, and is generally considered to be irreversible, although it can be done via microsurgery to repair the fallopian tubes.

According to the report, 27 of the operations were performed despite the fact that the attending physicians “did not sign the required consent form indicating the patient was of sound mind and understood the permanence of the procedure.” The auditors also uncovered that in a dozen instances medical staff sought approval for sterilization procedures, “less than a week elapsed between the date of the request and the date of the surgery.”

Under state law, sterilizations in California may only be performed between 30-180 days after a woman gives her consent in order to “to provide the patient with enough time to reflect on her choice and to make sure she desires sterilization.”

What’s more, in some cases physicians “doctored” the consent forms to show the necessary waiting period had passed even though it had not. The audit also said the "true number" of illegal procedures might be higher, noting that it had found seven cases at one hospital for which health records were lost in a routine purging. All the doctors involved are now under further investigation by the Medical Board of California and are subject to disciplinary action.

"The audit shows systemic failures by the federal receiver in the sterilization of female inmates,"exclaimed State Senator Ted Lieu (D, who was the first legislator to demand an investigation by the California Medical Board. "It made me sick to my stomach after learning that the receiver has made the ludicrous argument that they had no legal duty to make sure the prison employees comply with the consent procedures.”

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