Indigenous women in Greenland sue Denmark over involuntary contraception in the 1960s and 1970s

FILE - Homes are illuminated after the sunset in Tasiilaq, Greenland, Friday Aug. 16, 2019. 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 43 million kroner ($6.3 million), Danish broadcaster DR reported Monday, March 4, 2024.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

FILE – Homes are illuminated after the sunset in Tasiilaq, Greenland, Friday Aug. 16, 2019. 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 43 million kroner ($6.3 million), Danish broadcaster DR reported Monday, March 4, 2024.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A group of Indigenous women in Greenland has sued Denmark for forcing them to be fitted with intrauterine contraceptive devices in the 1960s and 1970s and demanded total compensation of nearly 43 million kroner ($6.3 million), their lawyer said Monday.

The 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.

They each are demanding 300,000 kroner ($44,000), the women’s lawyer, Mads Pramming, told The Associated Press.

The purpose was allegedly to limit population growth in Greenland by preventing pregnancies. 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.

Danish authorities say 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.

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 Pramming said they won’t wait until then, and 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.”

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.

“The pain, physically and emotionally, that they have experienced is still there today,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

Denmark’s past actions in Greenland have been haunting Danish authorities in recent years.

In 2020, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen apologized to 22 Greenland children who were forcibly taken to Denmark in 1951 in a failed social experiment.

The plan was to modernize Greenland and give children a better life, but it ended with an attempt to form a new type of Inuit by reeducating them and hoping they would later return home and foster cultural links.

We “apologize to those we should have looked after but failed,” Frederiksen said, adding that “the children lost their ties to their families and lineage, their life history, to Greenland and thus to their own people.”

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 its health sector from Copenhagen.

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