And what you can do to stop it.
How would you feel if you woke up from surgery to learn your uterus or ovaries were removed from your body without consent? It's a nightmare scenario a licensed practical nurse who worked full-time at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia says is happening to migrant women in government custody.
This week. Dawn Wooten became a national newsmaker when she blew the whistle about medical neglect and alleged forced hysterectomies at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center where she worked.
Wooten's allegations were filed with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General by a group of advocacy organizations, and included a stunning statement suggesting the gynecologist seeing detained migrant women is known as "the uterus collector" and that women are receiving hysterectomies without being informed of the reason for the procedure in a language they understand.
While some Americans question Wooten's claims, many others are hailing Wooten as an American hero, and pointing out that the United States has a history of forcibly sterilizing vulnerable women. And it's not ancient history.
Alexandra Minna Stern is a professor of American Culture, History and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. According to Minna Stern "forced sterilization policies in the US targeted minorities and those with disabilities–and lasted into the 21st century.
In a recent piece for The Conversation, Minna Stern notes "in the years between 1997 and 2010, unwanted sterilizations were performed on approximately 1,400 women in California prisons." In the 1960s and 70s, more than 100,000 Black, Latino and Indigenous women were victims of forced or coerced sterilization.
According to Dr. Gregory W. Rutecki, a former Fellow of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, census data shows "a steep decline in childbirth for diverse Native American tribes comparing birth numbers from 1960 through 1980." Indeed, a study by Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri found as many as 25% of American Indian women had been sterilized without their consent in the 70s.
Mexican women were also targeted, as was depicted in the 2015 documentary No Más Bebés, which chronicles a 1975 lawsuit by 10 women who said they were victims of forcible sterilization at the Los Angeles County-U.S.C. Medical Center. In that case, too, a medical provider (in this case, a resident) would become a whistle-blower, highlighting the lack of informed consent.
These stories and stats are but a fraction of the history of forced and coerced sterilization of vulnerable women in the United States. It's part of the legacy of white supremacy, and it needs to stop in 2020.
According to Wooten, vulnerable women are having parts of their bodies removed without their consent. And that is something that should never happen to anyone. If you are concerned about the treatment of women and people with uteruses in ICE detention centers, you should contact your representatives. Call, email or DM your reps and let them know you are not okay with forced or coerced hysterectomies.