A bill by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D- Santa Barbara, to prohibit forced or coerced sterilizations in prisons cleared its first hurdle Wednesday, passing out the Senate Health Committee on a unanimous, bipartisan vote. The vote was 9-0.
Senate Bill 1135 is a response to media reports from the Center for Investigative Reporting last year of unlawful and coercive sterilization of female inmates at the Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison for Women that were occurring as late as 2010.
Wednesday’s committee hearing included testimony from Kelli Dillon, who experienced sterilization abuse at age 24 while in prison in California.
“I’m hoping that by telling my story, I can help prevent others from having their opportunity to be a mother taken away or decided for them,” said Dillon, who lives now in Los Angeles and works as a domestic violence counselor and gang interventionist.
“When you hear stories like Kelli’s, it’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never occur in our prisons again,” Jackson said. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”
SB 1135 adds a section to the penal code to prohibit sterilization in correctional facilities for the purposes of birth control except in cases when a patient’s life is in danger or if it is needed to treat a medical condition and no other less drastic measure is feasible. In addition, a second independent physician must consult with the patient about the effects of the procedure before it is undertaken. Counseling about the permanency of the procedure must be provided as well.
In July 2013, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, of which Jackson is the vice-chair, wrote a letter to California Correctional Health Care Services Federal Receiver Clark Kelso expressing outrage over recent reports of unlawful sterilization of female inmates. At the request of the leadership of the Women’s Caucus, the state auditor is currently conducting an audit of this issue. The audit is expected to be completed sometime this spring.
SB 1135 is co-authored by the current chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, and the chair and vice-chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, Sen. Loni Hancock and Sen. Joel Anderson.
The bill will now head to the Senate Public Safety Committee.
— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.