Forced sterilizations in the US? It happened in California until 2013

Credit: University of Michigan

Filmed over seven years, Erika Cohn’s Belly of the Beast exposes state-sanctioned sterilizations in California prisons through the story of Kelli Dillon, who was forcibly sterilized while incarcerated at the Central California women’s facility in Chowchilla, and her lawyer Cynthia Chandler.

Told she needed surgery to treat an ovarian cyst, Dillon unknowingly underwent a hysterectomy in 2001, at the age of 24. She was unaware of the procedure until her lawyer – and not the doctors who treated her – informed the mother of two that she would never have children again.

She lost the case, but her story spurred new investigations. The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR, now Reveal) reported that between 2006 and 2010, at least 148 pregnant women received tubal ligations shortly after giving birth while incarcerated at two California prisons. The majority of the women were Black and Latina, and staff targeted people deemed likely to be incarcerated again, according to the investigation.

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The eugenics movement casts a long shadow through the persistent discrimination within the healthcare system against women of color, and the state’s control over women’s bodies. “You can call [forced sterilizations] state violence,” said Hafsah al-Amin of the [California Coalition for Women Prisoners]. “The neglect in the system enables, if not sends a message to people that it is OK to do to this particular group of people.”

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