New measure in Spain aims to stop the forced sterilization of persons with disabilities
Human Rights

New measure in Spain aims to stop the forced sterilization of persons with disabilities

Spain, sterilization

An advocacy group for the rights of disabled persons in Spain has introduced a measure that would end the current practice of forced sterilization of the disabled. Shockingly, under the current law, even those with what are considered “high-functioning” disabilities such as Asperger’s or other mild forms of autism, can be forcibly sterilized without their knowledge or consent, or with diminished consent under severe pressure from family or other authorities. 

The regressive policy has come under fire from international human rights organizations in recent years. According to article 156 of the Spanish criminal code, all that is necessary to carry out this act is a judge’s authorization and acknowledgement of the “incapacity” of the individual in question. A 2018 report from the European Disability Forum showed that, from 2010-2013, 400 women — whom doctors deemed as having some form of disability regardless of mental capacity — were forcibly sterilized in Spain. The report highlights the story of a deaf woman who was sterilized without her consent. 

“And these are just the cases we know about,” a report in Equal Times points out. “Far more often, forced sterilization procedures don’t leave traces in official records because doctors typically go it alone, performing sterilizations on women with no due process.”

READ: Report: Deaf people in Japan were coerced into abortion and sterilization

When Ciudadanos party MP Sara Gimenez brought the issue to public consciousness in a tweet in January, Euronews illustrated the problem with the story of Cristina, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18. Her parents immediately pressured her to undergo a tubal ligation. 

“They kept telling me that it would be irresponsible to have sex because I could get pregnant; that I was not going to be able to take on the responsibility of being a mother,” she told EuroNews. “That, as I was Asperger, my children would also be born Asperger; and this insistence fixed in my mind the idea that I was not capable of having children.”

The pervasive societal belief at the heart of the policy is that persons with disabilities cannot be good mothers, or that the disability would be passed on and the resulting child would be a “burden,” both on the family and on the state which sometimes lacks appropriate resources. In some cases, the forced sterilization is also portrayed as being for the good of women, “protecting” them from potential future pregnancies due to possible abuse. 

An update on the status of the measure was not available at the time of this story.

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