Policy: Entitlements

California prison doctors sterilized women to cut welfare costs

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California prison doctors sterilized almost 150 women over a four-year period because they didn’t want the state to have to provide welfare funding to any children they might have in the future, one of the top doctors admitted this week.

California taxpayers spent $147,460 on the procedures between 1997 and 2010. ”Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money,” Dr. James Heinrich, the OB-GYN at Valley State Prison for Women, told the Center for Investigative Reporting, “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more.”

Heinrich’s argument recalls progressive Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who declared “three generations of imbeciles are enough” in the opinion he wrote for the majority in Buck vs Bell (1927), in which the Supreme Court ruled that women could be forcibly sterilized.

“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives,” Holmes wrote. “It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.”

Unlike Carrie Buck, these women agreed to the sterilizations, but only because they felt pressured by the doctors.  ”I figured that’s just what happens in prison – that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going get,” a former inmate told CIR.

The doctors flouted a regulation requiring state approval for each procedure, as the prison medical manager told CIR she signed off on the sterilizations as long as Heinrich “document[ed] it as a medical emergency.”
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