NEW YORK — Put this in the "can they even do that?" files. Jesse Lee Herald of Edinburg, Virginia, received an unusual sentence for "child endangerment, hit and run driving and driving on a suspended license" — 20 months in prison, five years of probation, and a vasectomy.
As part of his plea deal, Herald had to agree to get snipped when he got out of jail. He’s not allowed to undergo a reversal until his probation is up.
Herald has a fairly long rap sheet already, including a previous hit and run conviction, but it wasn’t just his life of petty crime that inspired the mandatory vasectomy, according to what assistant commonwealth’s attorney Ilona L. White told NV Daily:
White said her motivation in offering the vasectomy option to Herald stemmed from concerns raised at sentencing hearings in earlier cases about how many children have been traced to him from different women.
"It was primarily due to the fact he had seven or eight children, all by different women, and we felt it might be in the commonwealth’s interest for that to be part of the plea agreement," White said of the vasectomy provision.
Herald seems like bad news, but as Isha Aran at Jezebel writes, "This is eugenics, right? Temporary negative eugenics?" Probably not even temporary, as vasectomy reversals are expensive, can be quite painful, and often don’t work anyway. This is particularly troubling in light of Virginia’s notorious history when it comes to eugenics. Virginia was the source of the infamous 1927 eugenics case Buck v. Bell, in which Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes justified the Supreme Court upholding the forced sterilization of a woman in a mental institution by arguing, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." (After the Nazi era, American enthusiasm for eugenics declined rapidly, though clearly has never gone away completely.)
The Herald deal is particularly disappointing since things have just started to get better in Virginia when it comes to the issue of reproductive coercion. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has aggressively moved to get the state health board to repeal medically unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics that were passed under his Republican predecessor. While it may not seem that forcing women to have children has all that much in common with trying to force a man not to have children, both are rooted in this unsavory ideal that the basic right to bodily autonomy should be abandoned in the face of other people’s disapproval of your sexual choices.
In both cases, class plays a major role, as wealthier women have the ability to leave the state to get abortions and no one would dare suggest that a wealthy man should have his testicles snipped because he has children by multiple women. While many likely agree that it would be for the best if Jesse Lee Herald stopped impregnating various women, it’s deeply disturbing to see the state think they have a right to make that decision for him.
Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet and USA Today.