The Danish government once directed medical providers to implant intrauterine devices in Inuit women and girls from Greenland. From 1966 to 1975, around 4,500 IUDs were fitted without patient consent.

IUDs date back to the turn of the 20th century and are designed to prevent pregnancy. German physician Richard Richter developed the first one out of silkworm gut, but it was impractical and rarely used. Later versions were made of silver to prevent infection.

The devices did not become pragmatic until Jack Lippes developed one made of thermoplastics in the 1950s. In 1962, the first marketable IUDs became available, designed for adult women who had at least given birth once. Known as an “S” loop IUD, they were frequently used in the 1960s and ’70s.

Reports emerged in 2021 about “S” loop IUDs being implanted in Inuit women who had come to providers seeking gynecological services in Greenland during the 1960s and ’70s. Physicians would often implant the devices with neither consent nor knowledge that the device was going to be implanted. Many victims were as young as 13 or 14.

These cases clearly violated the patient’s autonomy, but they went a step further as the “S” Loop IUDs were not recommended for women who had not given birth, let alone young girls who lacked a uterus that was developed enough to house the device.

While it is unclear how many Inuit women received the devices, it is known that the devices caused infection and gynecological harm, with some victims claiming lifelong infertility as a result. Many women did not find out about the devices until adulthood.

The program, often called the “Coil Campaign,” was part of the Danish authorities attempt to modernize Greenland.

After World War II and decolonization, Greenland’s economy and population expanded rapidly, and developments in health care caused life expectancies to rise. As it was cost prohibitive to update and industrialize the newly formed country, Danish authorities elected to limit population growth.

Rumors of the “Coil Campaign” had circulated for years, but victims didn’t begin to come forward until the late 2010s.

Naja Lyberth, a 60-year-old Inuit woman who had a device implanted when she was 13, shared her experience on her Facebook page and began searching for others who had similar experiences.

Investigators with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation uncovered the program’s records, ultimately compelling Greenland’s Parliament to demand that the Danish government investigate the program.

News outlets and human rights groups supported the cause and demanded action, pushing the Danish government to agree to a two-year investigation of the coil campaign and other fertility control programs that operated between 1960 and 1991.

The campaign appears to have ended abruptly after Greenland’s government took over health policy from the Danish Health Authority in 1992. Unfortunately, the practice may not have ended there.

On December 8, 2022, the BBC released a report documenting several women who had been fitted with unwanted contraceptive devices as late as 2014.

These cases should produce moral outrage, and they need to be investigated. The Inuit tribes and people of Greenland need answers about what happened and why.

At the same time, other countries like the United States need to reflect upon medical practices that were made during the same time period.

In the 1970s, with the passage of the Family Planning Services and Research Act (Title X), Indian Health Services received funds in order to sterilize Native American women.

In her book Reproduction on the Reservation, Brianna Theobald estimates that 25% to 42% of Native American women of childbearing age were sterilized in the 1970s. Similar programs existed in Canada.

While it is tempting to think that all of this is behind us, it isn’t. We still hear reports of forced sterilization.

In September 2020, a whistleblower filed a complaint, alleging that immigrant women were being sterilized without consent at the Irwin Country Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in June 2021 that a review of documents released following a Freedom of Information Act request showed that “officials disregarded, dismissed or denied claims of improper treatment by the gynecologist.”

All of this is disturbing. Whole generations of families have been lost due to an immoral ideology of eugenics and racism, and almost no one has ever been held accountable.

Ironically, many of the groups in the U.S. who fought against the legalization of abortion or who fought to ensure reproductive rights stood quietly on the sidelines while Native American woman lost their ability to foster the next generation.

These atrocities cannot be allowed to happen again.

Share This