Hastings Women’s Law Journal


A 2013 investigative report on California prisons exposed the recent use of coercive tactics to induce women in prison in that state to undergo sterilization surgeries to permanently end their fertility. This is particularly striking given California's infamous history as the state that forcibly sterilized the largest number of people during the eugenics era. But California is not the only state that permits, condones, and may use public money to sterilize women in prison. This article begins with a consideration of the history of eugenic sterilization, and its troubling revival against the very women-women of color and poor women- who were its early targets and now are disproportionately imprisoned. The authors then compare state corrections policies and practices throughout the United States, contrasting these policies with federal regulations that ban sterilizations on people in prison and require rigorous informed consent procedures for those who are not incarcerated. As the authors demonstrate, the coercive prison environment undermines informed consent to sterilization, and requires an end to both state sanction for and health care provider participation in sterilizing people in prison.