Forced sterilization: controversial practices in Europe

14 EU countries practice forced sterilization of disabled people, EDF alert, activist association within Europe. If France is not part of it according to its legal texts, in practice, gray areas remain.

Can you imagine waking up one day and being sterilized without your consent? “, asks, cash, the European Disability Forum (EDF) in a petition distributed at the beginning of August 2022. This is what happened to a young deaf woman, who discovered, during gynecological examinations, that she had been sterilized during her childhood, in the greatest secrecy. After a confrontation with his hearing parents, the latter confessed to having followed the advice of a doctor to ” prevent passing on the deaf gene to the next generation “.

An alarming report

Cases like this, the EDF report on the forced sterilization of people with disabilities (linked below), published on September 22, 2022, mentions dozens. The reasons given? The ” best interests of the person “, medical contraindications to maternity, protection against sexual abuse or even a contraceptive method” simple and efficient “. Prohibited by numerous international texts, in particular the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, this definitive practice is ” akin to torture », « causes lifelong trauma and deprives people of their right to decide about their own bodies and start a family warns Pirkko Mahlmäki, member of EDF’s executive committee.

What does French law say?

However, at least fourteen states of the European Union (EU) still authorize it in their legislation. This is the case of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Slovakia… Three countries even allow the forced sterilization of minors: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Portugal. France, meanwhile, remains in a gray area. Since the 2001 law on the voluntary termination of pregnancy and contraception, the sterilization of people with mental disabilities is possible in France but in a ” strictly framed. This contraceptive method should be adopted as a last resort, only when the person is of age and does not express any refusal. The decision is then up to the guardianship judge, after consultation with the person and their legal representative. ” This does not mean that it is not or no longer practiced but that in principle, according to the law, sterilization cannot take place if the person opposes it. “says Marine Uldry, in charge of human rights within EDF. In practice, it is difficult to ensure his consent. ” In particular, she may be under pressure from family or doctors to accept sterilization. Sometimes the operation can simply be poorly explained and therefore the person does not object to it “, continues Marine Uldry. In France as in Belgium or Hungary, sterilization or contraception is even a condition of admission in certain specialized establishments, denounces the EDF report.

A taboo that remains

This practice remains taboo and often takes place behind closed doors; the absence of statistics on this subject bears witness to this. In France, the latest data available dates back to 1998 and reports nearly 500 cases of tubal ligation per year. In 2012, an application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights by five women with mental disabilities who had undergone surgery without their consent and without knowing the nature of the operations. Their request had finally been rejected… Due to the opacity of the phenomenon, it may well be that it is particularly undervalued. Of the European states mentioned in the report, recent data was only found for Germany and Spain. Across the Rhine, 17% of disabled women have been sterilized, compared to 2% of women nationally in 2017. For its part, the General Council of the Spanish Judiciary counts more than a thousand disabled people sterilized during the last decade. ” Due to this unacceptable situation, we call on the EU to insert a total ban on this practice in the next legislation on combating violence against women. “urges EDF.

“All reproduction and representation rights reserved.© This article was written by Clotilde Costil, journalist”

Forced sterilization: controversial practices in Europe