Asylum Seekers’ Alleged Hysterectomies Another Entry in a Long History of Forced Sterilizations

 In State

Multiple human rights groups recent­ly joined a nurse in accus­ing a pri­vate­ly owned U.S. immi­gra­tion deten­tion centre in Georgia of forcibly ster­il­iz­ing women. The reports claim Dr. Mahendra Amin con­duct­ed unau­tho­rized med­ical pro­ce­dures on women detained by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE).

The whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, is a nurse and former employ­ee of the centre. She claims a high rate of hysterectomies were performed on Spanish-speaking women and women who spoke various Indigenous languages common in Latin America.

Wooten claims staff at Irwin County Detention Center failed to use proper anes­the­sia during surg­eries. She said women who protest­ed or spoke out were sent into soli­tary con­fine­ment. Wooten called the doctor the “uterus col­lec­tor.”

Wooten also said the centre did not obtain proper con­sent for these surg­eries, or lied to women about the med­ical pro­ce­dures. Many of these women do not speak English and were not prop­er­ly informed about what occurred until after the oper­a­tion, if at all.

According to Business Insider, Amin had pre­vi­ous­ly been implicated in medical billing fraud.

These accu­sa­tions coming out of an ICE facil­i­ty are on the heels of other hor­rif­ic claims: wide­spread reports of sexual and phys­i­cal abuse of chil­dren and detainees of all ages as report­ed by The Associated Press in June 2019.

This treat­ment con­sti­tutes human rights vio­la­tions and geno­cide accord­ing to the stan­dards estab­lished by the United Nations.

Sadly, this treat­ment of Latina, Indigenous and Black women is noth­ing new. The U.S. has a long his­to­ry of forcibly ster­il­iz­ing women from these com­mu­ni­ties.

Forced ster­il­iza­tions in U.S. hos­pi­tals

About 20 kilo­me­tres from where I was born and raised sits the Los Angeles General Hospital, along with other dingy, under-resourced hos­pi­tals. During the 1960s and ‘70s, many “tar­get­ed” ster­il­iza­tions hap­pened in these types of places where the U.S. gov­ern­ment dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get­ed Mexican women for forced ster­il­iza­tion.

In the mid-70s, a group of Mexican women sued a doctor for conducting unauthorized medical procedures on women at L.A. County Hospital. Despite the rough­ly 20,000 ster­il­iza­tions that were autho­rized in the state, a judge ruled these forced surg­eries were legal and per­formed in “good faith.”

Despite legal reforms that essen­tial­ly elim­i­nat­ed this prac­tice, there are reports it con­tin­ues to happen in California state pris­ons.

Sterilizations in California pris­ons

A 2010 report by pris­on­er rights group Justice Now found nearly 150 incar­cer­at­ed women were ster­il­ized between 2006 and 2010 by state doc­tors.

Researchers believe there could be at least 100 more who have been ster­il­ized in California pris­ons since 1990. The doctor who con­duct­ed these surg­eries was paid close to US$150,000, accord­ing to state records.

Most of these women were poor, Mexican or women of colour and, like the women in migrant deten­tion cen­tres, they were coerced, ill-informed or pun­ished with long bouts of soli­tary con­fine­ment.

The prac­tice of ster­il­iz­ing women in California pris­ons was deemed “legal” until the gov­er­nor final­ly out­lawed it approx­i­mate­ly nine years ago inside all state insti­tu­tions.

Despite these legal reforms, I have no doubt this prac­tice against Latina, migrant, refugee, Black, Indigenous and at-risk women is still ongo­ing around the world.

Medical neg­li­gence against my com­mu­ni­ty isn’t new

I am moti­vat­ed by sto­ries from women like my mother, Carmen, who gave birth to me in 1985 when she was 19 years old. When Carmen recounts the story of my birth, she always men­tions how I was born on a sunny after­noon. But she spent mul­ti­ple weeks with a high fever, likely due to a post-birth infec­tion. She was sur­round­ed by med­ical staff who did not speak Spanish.

My mother still doesn’t know why or how she became unwell.

After hear­ing many more sto­ries of medical negligence and forced med­ical pro­ce­dures in the course of my research, I am no longer sur­prised when I hear about the U.S. vic­tim­iz­ing Indigenous Peoples like my grand­par­ents or other mem­bers of my com­mu­ni­ty.

The most at-risk women are usu­al­ly the ones who expe­ri­ence the brunt of these forced ster­il­iza­tions.

A tragic exam­ple comes from women who lived in Puerto Rico in the ’50s and ’60s. They were given an exper­i­men­tal drug by researchers interested in creating a birth control pill. Those women expe­ri­enced seri­ous side effects like blood clot­ting and infer­til­i­ty. They were not given infor­ma­tion. These trials, also con­nect­ed to a ster­il­iza­tion pro­gram, were in part eugen­ics and in part cor­po­rate phra­maceu­ti­cal research. Approximately one-third of Puerto Rican women were ster­il­ized — many invol­un­tar­i­ly.

Investigation needed

The U.S. gov­ern­ment needs to con­duct an inter­na­tion­al inves­ti­ga­tion into the treat­ment of those being held in pri­vate and public immi­gra­tion deten­tion cen­tres.

Canada should do the same, because it has a long his­to­ry of forcibly sterilizing Indigenous women.

Those in posi­tions of power need to stop treat­ing immi­grants and people of colour as sub­hu­man. Without a con­cert­ed outcry and effort to stop these unau­tho­rized med­ical exper­i­ments, tests and pro­ce­dures, the U.S. and other nations will con­tin­ue to engage in this type of geno­cide.

The Conversation

Jerry Flores, Assistant Professor, soci­ol­o­gy depart­ment, University of Toronto

This arti­cle is repub­lished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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