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Greenlandic women plan to sue Danish state over historical contraceptive ‘violation’

Dozens of Greenlandic women who say they were fitted with the contraceptive coil without their consent or knowledge are planning to sue the Danish state.

The group of 67 women, some of whom were as young as 12 when they say they were fitted with an IUD by Danish doctors in an attempt to reduce Greenland’s population, are among the 4,500 women and girls affected between 1966 and 1970.

The women have sought compensation from the government of 300,000 Danish kroner (£35,000) for what they say was a “violation” that has had major consequences on their lives. If the government does not comply, the women plan to take their case to court.

Naja Lyberth, who was the first woman to come forward six years ago to say that she had been fitted with a coil during a school medical examination as a young teenager without her consent, accused the state of concerted sterilisation.

“Our lawyers are very sure that our human rights and the law was broken,” the psychologist and women’s activist said. She added that although she had gone on to have a child, many others found they were unable to conceive. “It was the same as sterilising the girls from the beginning.”

Naja Lyberth.Naja Lyberth was the first woman to come forward to say that she had been fitted with a coil during a school medical examination without her consent. Photograph: Naja Lyberth

There was also very poor aftercare, she said. Many women were left with severe pain, internal bleeding and abdominal infections, while several had to have their uterus removed or lost the ability to have children.

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One woman only found out last year that she had been fitted with a coil, said Lyberth.

Despite Lyberth sharing her story publicly, it took several years for the scandal to attract mainstream attention in Denmark. It wasn’t until the release of a podcast series by the Danish public broadcaster that the issue started to gain political traction.

Earlier this year, the Danish state and Naalakkersuisut, the Greenlandic government, launched an impartial investigation into the coil case and other pregnancy prevention practices carried out in Greenland between 1960 and 1991, when the autonomous territory took back control of its health sector.

The investigation is due to report in May 2025.

Lyberth, who had difficulty getting pregnant but had a son at 35, said women should not have to wait that long for compensation for the suffering they had been forced to undergo. But to take action, she added, was a relief.

“We can set our boundaries now. We can take our own resources back to us and fight for equality. We were not equal at all in Greenland when they did that to us. They would never have done that in Denmark to the Danish girls.”

If the government did not take their demands seriously, she added: “we will sue the government in court.”

To have their suffering recognised by the government would be a significant first step towards healing.

“The doctor’s work is to make sure we are healthy. They made us sick, causing damage to our uterus and our ability to have children,” said Lyberth. “It’s our most holy inner organ that is supposed to give life to the next generation. It’s not OK at all.”

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Denmark’s minister for health and the interior, Sophie Løhde, said: “It is a deeply tragic matter and the women’s stories have left a profound impression on me. It is imperative that we thoroughly investigate this matter, which is why a team of researchers currently is conducting an independent and impartial investigation.”