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Hysterectomies: A norm among detention centers

Updated: Oct 9, 2020


The practice of female sterilizations in detention centers, jails, and prisons is not a novel issue in today’s society, in fact, this practice has been around since the early 1900’s. During those times, there were federally-funded female sterilization programs in place that were backed by the concept of eugenics. Sterilizations were typically performed on individuals who were considered “undesirable”or deemed unworthy to procreate, which often included the poor, non-whites, criminals, and the mentally ill or disabled. In 1935, these eugenical sterilization programs were federally funded by over 30 states in the U.S. Throughout the 1900’s, involuntary sterilizations were occurring rampantly in California, with more than 20,000 individuals falling victim to the forced procedure within a fifty-five year time frame. It was not until 1975, however, when the Madrigal v. Quilligancourt case brought forth the inhumane practices that were being performed to public attention. This lawsuit against the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center involved ten Mexican-American women who claim to have been coerced into receiving sterilization procedures. This landmark case was just one of many that addressed the issue of reproductive justice among women across the country. 

The performance of hysterectomies on women in detention centers, without informed consent, is a form of deviance in itself. It serves the purpose of maintaining social control among individuals in our society. In this case, the performance of non-consensual hysterectomies is not what is being perceived as deviant by our government, but rather the illegal immigrants, a majority of which are going against the law in attempts to search for a better life in the U.S. But since these women are acting against the United States law, it gives the authorities the liberty to take away their reproductive rights, no? This type of treatment toward women is similar to that of FGM (female genital mutilation) which is considered a felony in the U.S. if performed on an individual under the age of eighteen. FGM is an invasive procedure that involves the removal of external genitalia. It is often performed without any consent and by individuals with no medical experience. Depending on the specificity of the procedure, it can even result in complete closure of the vaginal walls, leaving just a small opening for urination and menstrual blood. FGM is done so that women are considered “marriageable” and to prevent them from engaging in sexual intercourse before marriage. It is still around today in some cultures as it holds traditional significance, however, it completely violates the rights that a woman has to her own body as does the performance of hysterectomies. 

This corrupt behavior that women are being subjected to is simply devastating and cruel. No crime, felony, or act of deviance should give justification for this kind of treatment. While I do believe that the performance of these hysterectomies are prompted by the need to assert social control, I also believe that they are prompted by acts of discrimination and the desire to obtain more racial homogeneity among the U.S. population. Taking away the reproductive rights of minority women circles back to the idea of eugenics, where only individuals who had “desirable characteristics” were worthy of reproduction. Ultimately, eugenics acts as a euphemism for racism, so it should come to no surprise that minority women are being treated in such a manner by our federal government agencies such as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). This issue is a part of much a larger one as I previously mentioned, the issue of systemic racism in our society. Federal agencies like ICE operate on the basis of racial segregation and are making sure that detainees with the ability to reproduce, do not get the chance to. As long as detention centers, prisons, and jails continue to operate under a system that further marginalizes and targets people of color, minority women will continue to be taken advantage of and mistreated and we will continue to hear about their sufferings.

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