Forced or coerced sterilization forms a non-consensual and invasive restriction on any persons’ ability to make childbearing decisions. It represents a severe affront to reproductive rights, affecting many communities of poor and marginalized persons worldwide. Often condoned in the name of a public health “rationale” such as population control or prevention of HIV in infants, these practices are in fact carried out on the basis of discriminatory stereotypes such as the inability of certain types of people to be “fit parents”.
Among the many populations disproportionately affected are women living with HIV, Roma (“gypsy”) women, people with mental health problems or intellectual disabilities, transgender persons, people who use drugs, and indigenous people. A typical example is the story of Jane in Namibia, who was sterilized against her will.
Jane is a single mother who is living with HIV. When she went to a State hospital to deliver her baby, she was immediately met with abuse. The hospital staff called her “dirty,” and told her she smelled. They also decided that Jane should not be allowed to have any more children because she has HIV, despite the availability of treatment to prevent the spread of HIV from mother-to-child.The doctor insisted that Jane undergo a caesarian section to deliver her child, but first he required that she consented to be sterilized. If she refused the sterilization, the doctor would not deliver her baby.
Responsibility of governments
Although sterilization may be carried out by individual health providers, it is ultimately the responsibility of governments to protect everyone from such abuse and to support health providers in realizing reproductive rights. Governments must protect individuals from forced or coerced sterilization and guarantee all people’s right to the information and services they need to exercise full reproductive choice and autonomy.
Campaign Stop Torture in Health Care
As part of the campaign Stop Torture in Health are, we published a Position Statement on Forced and/or Coerced Sterilisation in 2011, and translated it in French, Spanish and Russian (see below) . One year later, the British Medical Association submitted a draft resolution based on our position statement to the World Medical Association. This resolution was adopted by the WMA during its General Assembly in October 2012 in Bangkok.
The WMA Statement on Forced and Coerced Sterilisation firmly states that no person, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, medical condition or disability, should be subjected to forced or coerced permanent sterilisation, and that instead, a full range of contraceptive services, including sterilisation, should be accessible and affordable to every individual. Informed consent should always be obtained and should be free from any pressure or material incentives. Further, the WMA calls on all national medical associations to advocate against forced and coerced sterilisation in their own countries and globally.