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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee, April 28, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Fifteen Tennessee counties have launched an ambitious program to implant contraceptive rods or intrauterine devices (IUDs) in female prison inmates. Critics are questioning how much freedom these women really have to resist, and say the program stirs memories of past eugenic practices.

The program started in Sevier County, where officials set up a taxpayer-funded program to give birth control, including abortifacient IUDs, to female prisoners at no cost.  The federal government already offers birth control to women in jail on a sliding scale based on income.

County officials say they decided to target incarcerated women, who often have a history of drug addiction, because addicted women are “less receptive” to getting and using long-acting contraception.

Officials reasoned that while in prison, the women are both sober and a captive audience.

After the addicted birth rate dropped in Sevier County, the program expanded to all 15 counties under the East Tennessee Regional Health Office. Other states are now considering funding long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) for their prison population.

Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department director, said officials even step up efforts to get female prisoners contraception after they've been released. When women are released before their IUD implantation appointments, the health department contacts them by telephone.

Knox County started a similar program last fall, but along with incarcerated women, it targets those in recovery programs.

The program raises ethical concerns, because it targets captive prisoners, who are disproportionately poor and members of racial minorities – the same groups Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger targeted in her Birth Control League.  Sanger, a believer in eugenics, sometimes referred to disfavored groups as “human weeds.”

“If done badly, it could be horribly coercive,” said Dr. Annette Mendola, director of clinical ethics for the University of Tennessee's Graduate School of Medicine. “You want to make sure people feel like they have a choice.”

Human Life International’s Stephen Phelan told LifeSiteNews that, while officials have at least “considered” the threat of state coercion, they appear to have ignored the long history of racist eugenics efforts that were sold with the supposed 'best interests' of the victims in mind.

“Coercion isn’t only literally forcing one to do something against her will,” he said. “It can also be pressuring her to take a certain course without providing all information, and time to make a free decision.”

“This continues to happen around the world, all under the banner of ‘reproductive health,’” Phelan told LifeSiteNews.

It is unknown if the women listening to the government's pitch for IUDs and implanted contraceptive rods are told that IUDs often stop a newly conceived child from implanting in the uterine wall, thereby causing an early abortion.

“There is wide support for decreasing unwanted pregnancy rates, but an even wider gap about the best means to do this,” Phelan noted.  The problem of drug-addicted mothers is “absolutely not helped by simply sterilizing women temporarily with methods that can themselves be harmful and that can cause abortions.”

“Women in jail have a whole host of problems, and the technological solution of LARCs could actually make other risks more likely – just as STI transmission, as women think they are 'safe' with hormonal birth control,” he said.  “It’s a terribly dehumanizing way to address a set of problems that already indicate truly human, spiritual needs.”