April 20, 2024

Greenland women demand compensation for forced contraception

Greenland women who lost their ability to bear children because Danish doctors secretly inserted IUDs in the 1960s and 1970s are suing for immediate compensation. As reported in BioEdge last year, half of the indigenous women in Greenland were affected. Apparently few of the women – some of them as young as 13 – gave their consent.

A government inquiry into this policy will publish its conclusions in 2025. But the women want action now. Psychologist Naja Lyberth, who initiated the request for compensation, told AFP: “We are getting older – the oldest among us, who had IUDs in the 1960s were born in the 40s, they are approaching 80. We want action now.”

The campaign to insert IUDs was not a secret, but it took decades before Inuit women spoke out. And it was only when two journalists from the national broadcaster DR launched a podcast, Spiralkampagnen (“coil campaign”) that it became a political issue.

The reasons appear to be straightforwardly paternalistic, racist, and economic. It was even hailed in a 1972 issue of the Journal of Family Planning as a great “success”.

In 1953 Greenland became an integral part of Denmark. Denmark began to invest heavily in modernising infrastructure and social services. Danish workers (mostly men) flooded into the sparsely populated territory. Within a few years Greenland had the highest birth rate in the world, half of the population was under 16, and 25% of children were born out of wedlock.

Something had to be done – or so Danish authorities believed. They embarked upon a family planning campaign. The contraceptive of choice was an early version of an IUD because the doctors believed that Inuit women were too feckless to use condoms or pills effectively. Doctors routinely inserted them in women without their consent. “Only a few women who’ve just given birth left the hospital without a loop, and the same was true for women who had abortions,” Jens Misfeldt, a former doctor in Greenland, stated in an article in 1977. “The fierce population increase meant that we had to increase our effort if we were to achieve improvements in living conditions,” the Danish Minister for Greenland told Parliament in 1970.