Summer Thyme Creel was sentenced to 10 to 16 months in jail after pleading guilty to a creating and cashing a series of counterfeit checks. A judge assigned to the case noted Creel's long history of criminal behavior and drug abuse and suggested that she get herself sterilized before serving time. Creel has complied with the suggestion, causing considerable scrutiny, according to a Washington Post report. Creel has already had seven children, all of which she surrendered.
“It appears highly likely,” Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot of Oklahoma City wrote, “that some of Ms. Creel’s children were conceived, carried and born while Ms. Creel was a habitual user of these illicit substances ... “Ms. Creel may, if (and only if) she chooses to do so, present medical evidence to the court establishing that she has been rendered incapable of procreation.”
Creel was voluntarily sterilized in November. Prosecutors continued to argue that her compliance should have no effect on her sentencing, saying that Creel “not only has a fundamental constitutional right to procreate,” and that her decision is "irrelevant to determining a sentence.”
Friot disagreed: “Ms. Creel will get the benefit of her decision to be sterilized. She will receive a shorter sentence because she made that decision ... The Supreme Court has yet to recognize a constitutional right to bring crack or methamphetamine addicted babies into this world.”
“I was surprised,” said W. Brett Behenna, Creel's lawyer. “That’s a very serious thing to bring up in the context of a criminal case, and I’ve never seen it before."
“It is my belief,” Behenna added, “that when I discussed it with Summer, she wanted to do it, 100 percent. No coercion, no force.”
Experts on women's rights have noted the ways that forced sterilization has been used in history, decrying the implicitly eugenicist ideology behind the judge's suggestion: “For decades, sterilization was used as a way to control populations considered ‘undesirable’ — immigrants, people of color, poor people, those with mental illnesses and disabilities. Tying Ms. Creel’s sentencing to her sterilization formalizes the coercion — the threat of a harsher sentence is manipulative and dangerous, and aligns with a legacy of eugenic practices through the U.S," said Eesha Pandit, a managing partner of the Center for Advancing Innovative Policy.
The courts shouldn’t be involved in a person’s reproductive decision-making.” added Deborah A. Reid, senior health policy attorney for the Legal Action Center. “How can the person give informed consent to be sterilized in this situation?”
Creel had previously avoided jail time for her history of crimes, which include convictions for embezzlement, grand larceny, forgery, obstructing an officer, false impersonation and writing bad checks.
Creel “admits that she had an interest in an elective sterilization procedure even before the Court’s order," according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica L. Perry.
“When I read the order, I was horrified,” said Lynn Paltrow, founder of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and a former senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “The last sentence makes it very clear that this was not merely a suggestion, but something the judge presumed would have an impact on her sentencing ... There’s a big equal protection question here. We find it highly unlikely that this judge has asked any man how many children he fathered and used that in his sentencing determination ... The irony is not lost on us that this federal district court judge sided with religious organizations resisting Obamacare’s mandate to cover contraception but believes it is appropriate to wield his enormous power to punish a woman for procreating.”
“A person’s reproductive choices should never be tied to anything having to do with crime or sentencing,” Pandit echoed. “Those things are distinct and should never be formally or informally part of the equation ... It’s impossible for the impact, even of the suggestion that she should be sterilized, not to affect her choices when facing a sentence. It’s coercive at its core — to claim otherwise is unbelievable ... We’ve learned this lesson over and over again, trying to control the reproductive lives of vulnerable communities is harmful and unethical.”
[Photo: Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office]