Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sterilization: coercion is not consent!

Cynthia Chandler is the co-founder of Justice Now.  She gives FFWP permission to publish her comments on why sterilization coercion is not consent!  She asks our readers to sign on to the petition to stand up to forced sterilization.  We also published a previous blog about forced sterilization in India, offering women I Phones in exchange for sterilization.  This also is not free choice, it's coercion, it's more, it's violence against women.


by Cynthia Chandler

 My response to prison officials who say women in prison signed release forms before being sterilized: Of course. That is the whole point. In a coercive environment, people in power can make people who are dominated do or say anything, including signing a release form authorizing sterilization.

Think about it. Arrest a woman when she is pregnant. Cage her in a jail designed to be so unpleasant that it induces plea bargains quickly. Feed her nothing but a couple of bologna sandwiches daily. Shackle her with her hands behind her back in a paddy-wagon, where she can do nothing to protect her belly as she is jostled about, and then take her to court to face the humiliation and life destruction that is criminal prosecution.

Send her to prison where she will be stripped and body cavity searched, her changing breasts and belly exposed, inspected, and patted down publicly, daily, repeatedly. Give her very limited food, the quality of which is so poor, people try to not eat it anyway. Subject her to daily taunts of bitch, nigger, whore by guards. Subject her to doctors with a demonstrated lack of attention and skill that results in documented abnormally high levels of miscarriage and still birth. Some doctors will refuse to even touch her.

Have her stand in the hot central valley sun in 100+ degree heat for hours to try to get prenatal vitamins. Add continued taunts reminding her that she is an unfit mother--that she deserves to, and will, have her baby taken from her at birth. She will sleep on a thin egg crate mattress over a concrete slab--back pain, sciatica, irrelevant.

Have her be alone without family, birth attendant, anyone to give her basic information about how and why her body is changing, what it means, how to cope with birth. There is no birth plan. There is no information about what a birth plan is. Know that there is a high likelihood that she has survived child sexual abuse and violence and that having her body taken hold by her baby inside her, no matter how much she loves her child, likely triggers fear over loss of control and post traumatic stress disorder. Good luck getting prompt medical attention if she should start bleeding or get an infection. And if she should refuse even one suggestion made by an inattentive physician, she will know that getting attention later will be even less likely.

Those same doctors will be reminding her of how irresponsible she was to get pregnant, how she will be doing the right thing to agree to be sterilized, that to do so is to be a good mother/Californian/person. When she goes into labor, in a crowded cell designed for 4 people and now housing 8, she will have to try to keep quiet so as to not increase tension among everyone else caged in the cell. When she is near birth, and only then, will she be put into a cage, within a van, like a dog, and brought to a hospital by the same pool of guards who refer to her and women in prison generally with racist, sexist slurs. Until recently, she would have been shackled, too, unable to use her hands to keep pressure off her vagina or to find any comfort during contractions, or generally, to keep from falling in any direction. Her world may very well be a sea of pain, fear, and shame. She will arrive at her final destination--a rural hospital with less than 100 beds and a distressing reputation for poor care.

The whole prison has been renovated, except the wing for prisoners that remains as it has for over 20 years. The medical staff refer to it colloquially as the dungeon. She will know no one. And she will know that when her baby comes, her baby will be taken away, most likely forever. And then a doctor, with his own agenda of saving the state money and possibly ridding the world of people like her, says he can help her. He can make sure she never has to experience any of this pain ever again. It's a simple procedure. Just sign this form. This pain will be in the past and you can go on with your life. And a correctional officer looks on. And again, until recently, she would be shackled to a gurney. And she signs.

By 1970, even without the added pain of daily life in prison, over one-third of all Puerto Rican women of child bearing age were coerced during the pain of labor into "consenting" to sterilization during labor and delivery through government-led eugenic programs. Californian doctors similarly coerced tens of thousands of Latinas to "agree" to be sterilized during labor and delivery in Los Angeles in the same period. Early civil rights activists understood how these sterilization programs were racist, sexist and wholly coercive--the consent the government was so proud of obtaining, was not consent--it was the product of intimidation, fear and coercion. And that is why there are now federal safeguards radically limiting when and how free-world people can consent to sterilization surrounding pregnancy. And why there is a total prohibition on any sterilizations for the purpose of birth control on people in prison--because it was understood that any attempt at obtaining consent in that kind of coercive environment is unreliable at best.

So of course California coerced women into signing consent forms before committing the crime of sterilizing them. Congratulations. Shows what bullies they are. They know how to intimidate women well.

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