Mid-South Lawmakers Introduce Bill Prohibiting Judges from Incentivizing Sterilization
MEMPHIS, Tenn (localmemphis.com) - A proposal by State Senator Brian Kelsey and State RepresentativeRaumesh Akbari to prohibit Tennessee judges from offering defendants reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 2133 prohibits a sentencing court from making a sentencing determination based on defendant's consent or refusal to any form of temporary or permanent birth control, sterilization, or family planning services, regardless of whether the defendant's consent is voluntarily given.
"Having children is one of the most important decisions an individual will ever make in his or her life," Sen. Kelsey said. "The decision to have children should be left out of the courtroom."
"The offer of under-going permanent sterilization or using long-acting contraceptives to reduce a judicial sentence is unconscionable," said Rep. Akbari. "After reading about a White County judge who'd issued a standing order offering a 30-day reduction to inmates that received either a vasectomy or birth control implant, I knew the legislature needed to act to ensure that this type of offer never occurred again."
The White County judge is Sam Benningfield who originally said his goal was to break a "vicious cycle" of repeat drug offenders with children.
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct found that Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity, and propriety.
"Reproduction is a fundamental right," Sen. Kelsey said. "In Tennessee, we respect life and we respect reproductive rights."
Locally, reproductive rights advocates with SisterReach say they believe the bill will better allow individuals to make their own decisions without pressure from a courtroom.
"Folks who are making decisions about their body should make informed decisions first and foremost,” saidSisterReach program director Orisha Bowers. "They should be in control of these decisions. No one else should be able to decide that for them. Thirty days in exchange for your ability to have a child seems like an uneven exchange."
The bill will now be heard in the full Senate.