Tennessee Judge Ends Sterilization Program Following Criticism

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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A Tennessee county judge who had been offering defendants 30 days off their prison sentences if they get vasectomies rescinded the policy Wednesday following an outpouring of criticism.

Two state legislator asked the state Attorney General to cut Judge Sam Benningfield’s policy on Thursday, the Times Free Press reported Friday. But they found the judge already had, citing push-back from the Department of Health. Under the policy, which had been in place since May 15, men would receive vasectomies and women would get a 4-year birth control implant.

“I wasn’t on a crusade,” Benningfield told the Free Press. “I don’t have a ‘mission.’ I thought I could help a few folks, get them thinking and primarily help children.”

The Tennessee ACLU had condemned the policy as “coerced sterilization.” Nearly 40 men had been waiting to get vasectomies through the program, and 32 women had already received implants, according to NewsChannel5.

“We are pleased that Judge Benningfield rescinded his unconstitutional standing order,” ACLU-TN  statement read. “The Constitution protects people’s right to choose whether and when to procreate.”

Benninfield said he only created the policy to prevent children from being born addicted to substances, citing several cases of babies born into withdrawal by mothers who were drug addicts, according to the Free Press.

“The more I thought about it, I thought, ‘Hey, let’s get some folks thinking about it,'” he said. “I thought the 30 days was enough to get their attention but not so much to override their judgment.”

The judge claimed he only offered the sterilization to men as well because he didn’t want the policy to be seen as sexist.

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