A group of Indigenous women in Greenland say Danish doctors inserted intrauterine devices without their consent. They are now seeking damages from the Danish government.
Dozens of Indigenous women and girls from Greenland have said that they had intrauterine devices inserted without their consent in the 1960s and 1970s and have filed a complaint with the Danish government, demanding compensation.
The women said they were among thousands affected by a Danish government campaign to control the growth of Greenland’s Indigenous population.
The women in the complaint, many of whom are now in their 60s or older, have called the procedure a violation of their human rights that left lasting physical and psychological damage. They said they would bring the case to court if necessary. The women are asking for 300,000 Danish kroner each for their suffering, or about $42,135.
“None of them had given consent or were even asked or told anything,” said Mads Pramming, a lawyer representing the group of 67 women, many of whom were minors at the time, who had the devices inserted. He shared the complaint with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s office on Monday.
Naja Lyberth, one of the women, said she was about 13 years old when she visited the doctor, thinking she was going to a routine annual checkup, but instead was scheduled for an IUD insertion.
“As girls aged 12 to 17, we were defenseless against the doctor,” she said, adding that the damages would amount to an apology from the government. “We were not treated as equal citizens within the Commonwealth.”
Many of the women seeking compensation had been living in boarding schools or school dormitories throughout Greenland at the time, sometimes far from their families. Some had never been sexually active and were called into a doctor’s appointment without knowing what was going to happen, according to the complaint.
Some of the women reported that they had felt so exposed, anxious and shamed by the experience, the complaint stated, that they never told their parents. They called the procedure, which inserted a device larger than modern IUDs, painful and traumatizing.
Ms. Lyberth, 61, now a psychologist and women’s activist, said she was not yet sexually active when it was inserted and did not feel she had the option to refuse. The pain, she said, felt like there were knives inside her.
“It was the worst thing I have experienced in my life,” she said. “I could not tell anyone because of shame and guilt and the fear of being judged by others.”
The devices also caused lasting damage, the women said in the complaint. Several said they experienced bleeding, abdominal pain or infections. Some said they feared that complications from the device left them infertile or struggling to carry pregnancies to term. Others said they developed scar tissue or that they had to have their uteruses or ovaries removed years later.
It remains unclear how many women or girls had the devices implanted without their consent. However, according to the complaint, which cited an investigation by the Danish broadcaster DK, an expert estimated that “4,500 IUDs were inserted in a population of approximately 9,000 women” in Greenland between 1966 and 1970, per data shared by health officials at the time, the complaint said.
The issue drew nationwide horror in Denmark last year after several women spoke of their experiences on a podcast by DK. Both Denmark’s and Greenland’s governments said last year that they would launch an investigation.
“It is imperative that we thoroughly investigate this matter,” Sophie Lohde, Denmark’s health minister, said in a statement on Tuesday, calling it a “deeply tragic matter.”
Greenland, a former Danish colony, became a district of Denmark in 1953. It remains part of the kingdom of Denmark but won autonomy over its governance and domestic policy in 2009.
At the time of the IUD campaign, Danish officials were in the midst of a “modernization” period in post-colonial Greenland. The Population Council’s study in 1972 that examined the IUD program called it a success, saying that the population growth of Greenland, which was “in excess” compared to the rest of Denmark, was being curtailed.
If the officials did not accept the women’s complaint, which cites a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Mr. Pramming said he planned to file it as a case in a Danish court.
He pointed to another case that had drawn condemnation of Denmark’s colonial legacy in Greenland, in which Greenlandic children were separated from their families and sent to Denmark in 1951 to in an attempt to “re-educate” them. The Danish government has since apologized and agreed to award each victim about 250,000 kroner, or about $35,100.
Ms. Lyberth said she did not want to wait for the investigations to conclude before she received justice. “We are no longer victims because we act now,” she said.