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Ban on inmate sterilizations moves forward in California legislature

By Jennifer Chaussee

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - A bill to ban sterilization surgeries on inmates in California prisons advanced on Tuesday, days after an audit showed officials failed to follow the state's rules for obtaining consent for the procedures.

The bill unanimously passed the assembly health committee on Tuesday as lawmakers scrambled to respond to the audit, which showed that errors were made in obtaining informed consent from 39 women inmates who had their fallopian tubes tied while incarcerated between 2005 and 2011.

“This bill is absolutely essential to make sure that women are not coerced into procedures they don’t want and truly informed about risks and side effects should they be deemed necessary,” said state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who introduced the measure and commissioned the audit in February, after the investigative non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting published a story on the sterilizations.

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.

The report by the California State Auditor showed that of 144 tubal ligations performed between 2005 and 2011, errors were made in obtaining informed consent in 39 cases.

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. In all but one of the cases, auditors said, there were issues with the way the procedures were authorized.

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 the state's prisons were placed under the control of a court-ordered receivership in 2006.

The current receiver, J. Clark Kelso, was appointed in 2008, but did not learn about problems with tubal ligations until 2010, when the prison rights group Justice Now brought it to his attention, the audit said.

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

Kelso supports the legislation, which would ban sterilization of inmates of either sex except in a medical emergency, a spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Ken Wills)

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