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California lawmakers pass bill banning inmate sterilizations

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - California lawmakers sent a bill to ban sterilization surgeries on inmates in California prisons to Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday, after media reports and a later audit showed officials failed to follow the state's rules for obtaining consent for the procedure known as tubal ligation from incarcerated women.

The bill prohibits sterilization in correctional facilities for birth control reasons unless a patient's life is in danger or it is medically necessary and no less drastic procedure is possible.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons,” said state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who wrote the bill. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”

The measure passed the Senate floor with a unanimous vote of 33-0 and now goes to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

The bill was introduced earlier this year in the wake of allegations, first raised by the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting, that the state failed to obtain informed consent in cases of women inmates who had their fallopian tubes tied.

An audit released in June showed that errors were made in obtaining informed consent from 39 women inmates out of 144 who had their tubes tied while incarcerated between 2005 and 2011.

Prison rules make tubal ligation available to inmates as part of regular obstetrical care. But until the issue was brought to officials’ attention in 2010 by an inmates rights group, proper authorization for the procedure was rarely obtained, the state auditor’s report said.

In 27 of those cases, a physician failed to sign the consent form as required, the audit showed. In 18 cases, there were potential violations of a mandated waiting period after women gave consent.

The audit was the latest blow to the state's troubled prison system and came as California is struggling to meet court-ordered demands to improve medical and mental healthcare in its overcrowded prisons.

Medical care in California's prisons has been under the supervision of a federally appointed receiver since 2006.

The current receiver, J. Clark Kelso, was appointed in 2008, but did not learn about problems with tubal ligations until 2010, the audit said.

Just one such procedure, deemed medically necessary, was performed after the concerns were brought to Kelso's attention, the audit said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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