For women who choose to be mothers, a medical procedure that takes away their ability to conceive a child and give birth is a monumental change in their lives.
Such life-changing operations done without consent or clear communication from the medical provider are the stuff of horror shows — or of other disreputable times in U.S. history.
Some immigrant women in a federal detention facility in Georgia are saying they underwent such shady medical care. A nurse who’d worked there filed a whistleblower lawsuit this month that included allegations about a gynecologist performing unnecessary or undisclosed procedures affecting the detainees’ reproductive health.
Since then, other women in the facility have come forward alleging misconduct by the doctor who treated them.
Last week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that Dr. Mahendra Amin would no longer see patients from the detention center.
That action is a start in tackling the issues brought up in the lawsuit, but there is so much more to do. The women in the facility can’t wait for a lengthy, bureaucratic investigation before they get trustworthy medical care. Safeguards must be in immediately put in place.
A 39-year-old Cuban woman recounted for The Associated Press that she was told only that she would undergo an operation to treat her ovarian cysts, but a month later she was still not sure what procedure she’d undergone. After she repeatedly requested her medical records, the detention center gave her more than 100 pages showing a diagnosis of cysts but nothing from the day of the procedure.
This kind of secretive surgery harkens to other times in the nation’s history when forced sterilizations occurred. The 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell legitimized eugenic sterilization laws that were common in many states. The Indian Health Service sterilized thousands of Indigenous women without their permission in the 1970s. And in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, more than 200 women who delivered babies at Los Angeles County and USC Medical Center underwent forced hysterectomies.
And this is not just the practice from a half century or more ago. Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
This unethical, morally reprehensible targeting of vulnerable people, usually women of color, must stop. The public must pressure their lawmakers to push for reforms that will protect everyone’s most basic human rights, no matter their gender, skin color, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
A woman shouldn’t be released from a detention center and find out that her ability to be a mother has been destroyed.