Denmark faces $6.3 million lawsuit after allegedly forcing Indigenous women to receive contraception implants

  • A group of Indigenous women from Greenland have sued Denmark, seeking compensation of nearly $6.3 million for being forcibly fitted with intrauterine contraceptive devices in the 1960s and 70s.
  • The group claims that Danish health authorities violated their human rights by fitting them with the devices without their consent or knowledge.
  • The purpose of the forced contraception was allegedly to control population growth in Greenland due to improving living conditions and healthcare.

A group of Indigenous women in Greenland has sued Denmark for forcing them to be fitted with intrauterine contraceptive devices in the 1960s and 70s, and demanded total compensation of nearly $6.3 million, Danish media reported Monday.

The group of 143 Inuit women say Danish health authorities violated their human rights when they fitted them with the devices, commonly known as coils. Some of the women — including many who were teenagers at the time — were not aware of what happened or did not consent to the intervention.

The purpose was allegedly to limit population growth in Greenland by preventing pregnancy. The population on the Arctic island was rapidly increasing at the time because of better living conditions and better health care. The small T-shaped device, made from plastic and copper, and fitted in the uterus, prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg.

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Danish authorities say that as many as 4,500 women and girls — reportedly half of the fertile women in Greenland — received coil implants between the 1960s and mid-1970s.

Greenland homes

Homes are illuminated after sunset in Tasiilaq, Greenland. A group of 143 Greenlandic women have sued the Danish state for having been fitted with coils in the 1960s and 1970s, and demand a total compensation of nearly $6.3 million, Danish broadcaster DR reported on March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

In September 2022, the governments of Denmark and Greenland launched an investigation into the program. The outcome of the probe is due next year.

But the women’s lawyer, Mads Pramming, said they won’t wait until then, adding that the only option for the women is to seek justice through the court.

“The oldest of us are over 80 years old, and therefore we cannot wait any longer,” one of the women, Naja Lyberth, told Greenland public broadcaster KNR. “As long as we live, we want to regain our self-respect and respect for our wombs.”

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Lyberth was 14 when she had a coil fitted and was among the first to talk about it.

The Danish government has offered psychiatric counseling to those affected.

Last year, 67 women filed an initial lawsuit against Denmark over the forced contraception. Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said: “The pain, physically and emotionally, that they have experienced is still there today.”

Greenland, which is part of the Danish realm, was a colony under Denmark’s crown until 1953, when it became a province in the Scandinavian country.

In 1979, the island was granted home rule, and 30 years later, Greenland became a self-governing entity. But Denmark retains control over its foreign and defense affairs. In 1992, Greenland took over control of the health sector from Copenhagen.

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