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July 8, 2013

California prisons illegally sterilizing female inmates as recently as 2010

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

The top medical manager at Valley State Prison from 2005 to 2008 characterized the surgeries as an empowerment issue for female inmates, providing them the same options as women on the outside. Daun Martin, a licensed psychologist, also claimed that some pregnant women, particularly those on drugs or who were homeless, would commit crimes so they could return to prison for better health care.

"Do I criticize those women for manipulating the system because they're pregnant? Absolutely not," Martin, 73, said. "But I don't think it should happen. And I'd like to find ways to decrease that."

Any comment that implies that certain kinds of people don't yearn for freedom should be viewed with suspicion, but especially under the circumstances. After all, as CIR reports, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of the Northern District of California ruled in 2006 that the health care system in the area prisons was so bad it constituted a human rights violation. The claim that women are routinely trading in their freedom and their families just to get access to such a shoddy level of care is pretty hard to swallow.

Incarcerated women deserve to have access to contraception, of course, and plenty of women are interested in long-term solutions. No one denies this, but CIR's report shows how "access" can turn into "coercion" very quickly when the women in question are marginalized or imprisoned. The frustrating part is that California already has fail-safes to make sure that line is not crossed, but the rules only work if you actually bother to follow them.

Marcotte is a journalist, opinion writer, and author of two books on progressive politics.

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