California Prison Sterilization and Black Paranoia of the Medical Industry

Reproductive rights is a hot-button topic and there isn’t another group that has had a more conflicted relationship with that topic than black women. Reproductive rights, namely abortion, has always been a strongly debated topic in the back community. Although one survey said 64 percent of black people support access to abortions, there’s a strong pro-life movement in the community. For instance, a swarm of billboards popped up  last year claiming abortion is the new genocide of black people.


As someone that is unabashedly pro-choice, I have argued with several people that share that view and if I had a nickle for every time someone told me that abortion providers are on the hunt for black fetuses, I would be able to pay off my student loans. Abortion is merely one example because I have heard similar arguments about birth control. Although that argument grinds the hell out of my gears, I can understand why many black people feel like that. Historically, we have been skeptical of the medical industry and that paranoia is definitely justified.

A horrifying story out of California is the latest example of how the medical industry has failed black people.

From Center of Investigative Reporting:

Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.

From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

Although my jaw dropped when I heard about this story, I wasn’t surprised. Women of color are overwhelmingly represented in female prison populations so I knew this issue was one that would resonate with the black community. Black women have been fighting for control of their wombs since slavers used to make them breed during enslavement. After that, poor black women were being sterilized against throughout the 20th century. According to NewsOne, an estimated 60,000 to 100, 000 people were sterilized, most of them being women. Not to mention the shackling of pregnant prisoners as they give birth.

Even outside of sterilization and reproduction, incidents like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment provide insight into black people’s paranoia of the medical industry. Although I haven’t done much research on it, I’m willing to bet my next paycheck that this paranoia of the doctor contributes to the alarming health statistics that tend to be attached to black people. Think about it, how would you know something is up with your body if you don’t go to the doctor because you are afraid that they will try to treat something that doesn’t need to be treated. It’s something to think about and it’s why I tend to be empathetic of black people that argue so strongly against abortion and I think the media would do better to investigate this instead of painting us as a bunch of anti-choice wackos.

What do you think of the incident in California and black paranoia of the medical industry? Leave a comment!


One thought on “California Prison Sterilization and Black Paranoia of the Medical Industry

  1. Courtney A. says:

    The incidents in those California prisons are unlawful and immoral, but personally do little – in my opinion – to justify a perceived paranoia of the medical industry among people our age (18-24). Simply put, many people our age don’t know the history of incidents like these, and those who do are making informed decisions about their mental/physical health. It may be an explanation for older generations, though.

    As far as birth control is concerned, I am personally not trusting of some methods because of the very nature of the medicines themselves, not providers/procedures etc. I do not agree that contraception is abortion, and as someone who has been pregnant and given birth, I was never afraid of being sterilized against my will. I would in fact argue that contraception is not accessible enough.

    Anyway, I do appreciate your highlighting of yet another injustice against Black women’s repro rights. I’m curious to see what other reports surface about similar incidents.


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