Rosario Ruiz’s parents didn’t think their daughter could be independent. The idea of her being a mother was inconceivable to them. After all, Ruiz has a developmental disability.
When she was 20, she fell in love with Antonio, one of her coworkers at the occupational center in Seville, southern Spain. They both wanted to have children one day, so they went to Rosario’s parents to tell them the news. Her parents were surprised. At the advice of their family doctor, they opted to have their daughter sterilized.
Forced sterilization of disabled people was permitted in Spain until two years ago. The law that allowed sterilizing without consent “in exceptional cases” was repealed at the end of 2020.
Forced sterilization is allowed throughout much of the European Union. Despite violating the Istanbul Convention and the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it is illegal in only nine nations. The sterilization of minors is permitted in only three Member States: Portugal, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
Her parents forced Rosario to have surgery to tie her fallopian tubes when she was 20. She was taken to Seville’s Vrgen del Roco Hospital without being told what kind of surgery she was scheduled for.
If she refused to go to the hospital, her mother threatened to bar her from seeing Antonio. She also threatened to place her in an institution., Unsurprisingly, Rosario agreed to go to the hospital.
After the surgery, she saw the scar on her body. “I asked myself: ‘What have they done with my life? Am I useless? Can everyone be a mother except me? Since then, I feel empty every day of my life,” she told Euronews.
She no longer feels affection for her parents. Rosario removed herself from the guardianship that allowed her parents to control all facets of her life three years ago. However, she now has to care for her 80-year-old father, who once thought she could not be a mother.
Another woman who used the pseudonym Carmen wanted to have children. Her mother had already made her decision: Carmen would have a tubal ligation to prevent her from having “many children” when she was 20.
Carmen has an intellectual disability, and her mother drove her to the hospital without telling her where she was going. She didn’t understand what would happen until the doctor explained it, but it was too late because she was already in surgery.
Due to the lack of cohesive European laws, the decision to criminalize the practice of forcing people with disabilities to be sterile is left up to individual Member States.
Only Sweden, Ireland, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Poland, and Spain have made the practice illegal, with Spain being the most recent European country to do so. Malta will also make the practice illegal soon. The government recently announced a plan to amend the law regarding the forced sterilization of disabled people.
However, as Euronews discovered, even in these countries, forcible sterilizing occurs occasionally. The key to putting an end to it is in Brussels. The European Parliament will discuss whether to abolish the practice in July, a decision that would be obligatory on all member states but would have to be approved by the European Council later.
In the United States, Carrie Buck was a woman who was confined to a state mental facility because she was “feeble-minded.” Her condition had been passed down through three generations in her family. To improve the “health of the patient and the welfare of society,” a Virginia statute authorized residents of institutions to be forcibly sterilized.
On May 2, 1927, in an 8–1 decision, the Court ruled that Buck, her mother, and her daughter were “feeble-minded” and “promiscuous” and that it was in the state’s interest to have her sterilized. Between 1927 and 1972, roughly 8,300 sterilizations were completed under state law. Buck, despite her diagnosis, had an active life after her release from the institution until she died in 1983.
Buck v. Bell was never declared unconstitutional. As of 2022, forced sterilization is legal in 31 states and Washington, D.C. Buck v. Bell’s logic has been significantly undermined by subsequent case law and a growing recognition of the need for procedural safeguards to preserve the privacy rights that sterilization jeopardizes.
Disabled people are people first. They are entitled to their reproductive rights. Being disabled doesn’t automatically mean someone is unfit for parenthood. As a disabled person, I hope that if I have a child, they will grow up knowing that their mother loves them and does the best she can.
Antonios, Nathalie, and Christina Raup. “Buck v. Bell (1927).” The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, Arizona State University, 1 Jan. 2012, embryo.asu.edu/pages/buck-v-bell-1927.
“Forced Sterilization of Disabled People in the United States.” National Women’s Law Center, 24 Jan. 2022, nwlc.org/resource/forced-sterilization-of-disabled-people-in-the-united-states/.
Lach, Laura, and Lucía Riera. “Why Is Sterilisation of Women with Disabilities Allowed in Europe?” Euronews, 6 June 2023, http://www.euronews.com/2023/06/05/i-see-the-scar-and-i-want-to-die-why-the-eu-allows-sterilisation-of-women-with-disabilitie.