[Pnews] Forced Sterilization Is Nothing New to Criminalized People in the US

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 17 11:12:42 EDT 2020


  Forced Sterilization Is Nothing New to Criminalized People in the US

Jenn M. Jackson - September 16, 2020

The United States has long used citizenship status and perceived 
criminality as a means to determine whether individuals deserve basic 
human rights. This week’s egregious allegations of mass hysterectomies 
an immigrant jail in Georgia are consistent with the long U.S. tradition 
of state-sanctioned eugenics, medical abuse and forced sterilizations 
against those whose humanity the state does not recognize or value.

News reports 
Monday revealed that gynecologists in an immigrant jail in Georgia have 
performed high rates of hysterectomies, often without the full awareness 
of the immigrant women themselves.

According to a complaint filed by Project South 
the revelation came from a whistleblower named Dawn Wooten, a Black 
woman who was a nurse at Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center. In the 
detailed account, Wooten shares not only the pervasive accounts of 
medical neglect and oversight, but also the ways that immigrant women’s 
bodies have been infiltrated by the state.

In the report, Wooten explains that incarcerated people would be sent to 
the doctor for medical procedures, including hysterectomies, and “they 
don’t know why they went or why they’re going.” Often, these women were 
not given informed consent as the medical procedures were not explained 
in their native language. At times, these women experienced intimidation 
and yelling from nurses pressuring them to follow through with unwanted 
or unnecessary procedures. In one account, a migrant woman simply came 
to the conclusion “that something was not right” when incarcerated 
migrants were being coerced into procedures that weren’t clearly 
explained or consistently described by medical staff.

These disturbing reports from Georgia are not surprising within the 
larger context of human rights abuses in the U.S. Since 2016, the 
conditions facing migrant people 
by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been a 
constant source of unrest and public upheaval. The images often depict 
dilapidated cells, makeshift bedding, and a lack of basic amenities like 
clean water and food for people jailed by ICE. While the treatment of 
migrant people on the border and the disregard for the lives and 
experiences of incarcerated people in this country has long been an 
issue, this moment has forced the public to grapple with the disparities 
in justice and liberty in new and disconcerting ways.

The reported resurgence of forced sterilizations at Georgia’s Irwin 
County Detention Center — a form of violence rooted in white supremacy, 
xenophobia, patriarchy and the inherently racist tenets of American 
citizenship — are an unfortunate recurrence in this nation’s short 
history. In times of contestation, sexual violence and reproductive 
injustice frequently become the currency of the state.

    A History of Anti-Blackness in Western Medicine

Many people are colloquially familiar with the story of the Tuskegee 
Experiments <https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm>on Black men 
which began in 1932. It was officially called “Tuskegee Study of 
Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” What many people don’t know is 
that these experiments lasted approximately 40 years even though they 
were projected for only six months of experimentation. The study 
originally included roughly 600 Black men mainly from Macon County, 
Alabama, 201 of whom did not actually have syphilis. The study 
deceptively enrolled Black men without allowing them informed consent, 
as researchers told participants that they had “bad blood 
and many were never treated at all.

The United States Public Health Service made the decision not to treat 
poor Black men for syphilis, but rather to watch them “until they died 
and their bodies examined for ravages of the disease,” according to /The 
Washington Post/ 

The “study” officially ended in 1972 and has been linked to lower life 
expectancy among Black men over 45 
a deep distrust between Black communities and Western medicine. The 
emotional and mental effects of this study remain hidden from popular 
culture and mainstream news, leaving many Black communities to struggle 
against these sorts of medical disparities in relative isolation.

    Forced Sterilizations in Recent History

Eugenics is often associated with Nazi Germany but, in the early 20th 
century, the United States adopted these techniques in grand fashion. 
Our disgusting history with forced sterilizations is linked to a 1927 
court decision in /Buck v. Bell/ 
<https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/274/200>. The decision 
gave institutions like prisons and mental facilities the ability to 
sterilize any person in their custody for any reason deemed necessary to 
protect the “better interests” of society. Carrie Buck was determined to 
be “feebleminded” so the state took away her ability to reproduce 
children. This stemmed decades of state institutions using their 
authority to forcibly sterilize incarcerated people. It’s estimated that 
some 70,000 people were sterilized until the 1970s.

But, /Buck v. Bell/has never been overturned 
As late as 2006 to 2010, California prisons have been found to have 
enforced the coerced sterilizations on at least 150 incarcerated people, 
according to /PBS/ 
As recently as 2017, a judge in central Tennessee offered shorter jail 
incarcerated people if they consented to sterilization. These procedures 
are used by prison administrators to disproportionately target and harm 
Black and Brown women, deeming them unfit for reproduction and marking 
their wombs as sites of waste and decay.

    Holding Our History of Hating “Criminals”

The United States’s commitment to eugenics, medical abuse and forced 
sterilizations depicts the complex nature of perceived criminality in 
this country. By marking certain people’s bodies as inherently evil, 
anti-patriotic and outside of the community of citizenship, the state 
casts a veil over the grave human rights infringements and institutional 
abuses it enacts against nonwhite, non-wealthy, non-male, non-normative 
people. This is by design, not by happenstance.

In her 1994 essay, 
Just (Any) Body Can Be a Citizen,” M. Jacqui Alexander wrote, 
“criminalization functions as a technology of control, and much like 
other technologies of control becomes an important site for the 
production and reproduction of state power.”

Criminalization is the mechanism by which people are transposed from 
humans into bodies through the eyes of the state. By criminalizing, 
ostracizing and excluding Black, Brown, queer, trans, immigrant and 
disabled people, the state sanctions all manner of macabre violence 
against those they see as merely bodies, organs, and a collection of 
pieces and parts.

The state is not invested in the humanity of all people but only in the 
humanity of a chosen few. Until we recognize and hold that truth to be 
self-evident, we will be powerless in holding these institutions and 
systems accountable for the injustices they continue to commit right in 
front of our faces.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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