Outrage and criticism has forced a Tennessee judge to rescind his offer to shorten the sentences of drug offenders if they voluntarily received vasectomies and other forms of birth control.
The measure, brought forth in May by White County Judge Sam Benningfield, was deemed unconstitutional by opponents, included the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who said the choice was coercion on the government’s part.
“Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional,” ACLU-TN executive director Hedy Weinberg wrote in a statement. “Such a choice violates the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity by interfering with the intimate decision of whether and when to have a child, imposing an intrusive medical procedure on individuals who are not in a position to reject it.”
Benningfield, who stresses that participation was voluntary, said he was forced to scrap the measure after the health department threatened to “pull its free services if action wasn’t taken,” according to CBS News.
“I did not change my mind,” Benningfield said. “The health department succumbed to the pressure and withdrew their offer of services. I had nothing to offer so rescinded the order. I bet they didn’t tell [you] that part.”
Benningfield maintains that he wanted to curb the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome while ensuring mothers and fathers didn’t pass on addiction to their children. But many still look at the move as eugenics.
The ACLU applauded the decision to scrap the program.
“The judge’s order crossed a constitutional line,” the organization wrote in a statement. “And we are pleased that he rescinded it.”