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3 sue gov't over forced sterilizations, abortion under former eugenics law

The legal representatives and supporters of the Hokkaido couple suing the government for damages over a forced abortion and sterilization under the old eugenic protection law march to the Sapporo District Court to file the lawsuit, in Sapporo's Chuo Ward, on the morning of June 28, 2018. (Mainichi)

SAPPORO/KUMAMOTO -- A Hokkaido couple and a Kumamoto Prefecture man sued the Japanese government on June 28 over forced sterilizations and abortion under the now defunct eugenics protection law (1948-1996) for violating their constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness and their reproductive rights.

The cases filed in the Kumamoto and Sapporo district courts call for a total of 55 million yen in compensation from the central government. The plaintiffs also argue that the government and the Diet failed to take measures to aid victims after the eugenics law was revised in 1996 to become the current Maternal Health Act.

These cases are the second en masse lawsuits surrounding the old eugenics law following those filed in the Sendai District Court on May 17, and the Kumamoto case is the first to be filed in western Japan. This is also the first time a case has been brought before a court in which a plaintiff was subject to both a forced abortion and a forced sterilization surgery. The new suit brings the number of people nationwide who have filed compensation lawsuits against the central government over the law to seven.

According to the legal complaint and other sources, the Hokkaido couple is asking for a total of 22 million yen in government compensation. The wife has an intellectual disability that is thought to have been caused by a high fever that she had while she was an infant. When she was in her 30s, she married her current husband, and became pregnant four years later. However, she claims that doctors performed both an abortion and a sterilization surgery on her without her consent. Her husband has no disabilities or illnesses, and says that he was forced to sign off on the procedures done on his wife by relatives and others. According to their legal representatives, the couple made a request to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government and the hospital to release records of the procedures, but there has been no confirmation that the documents have been retained. The 75-year-old Hokkaido woman's 81-year-old husband charges that their "right to plan a family" was stripped away under the law.

Meanwhile, 73-year-old Kazumi Watanabe filed in Kumamoto for 33 million yen in compensation. When he was around 10 years old, he claims that unbeknownst to him, his testicles were removed at a hospital where he was taken by his mother. He did not have an intellectual disability or a mental illness, the criteria for forced sterilization under the eugenics protection law, but he had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. The defunct law prohibited the removal of the testes, but according to his legal representatives, "(Mr. Watanabe's) mother testified that her son 'underwent a eugenic surgery,' and we determined we could hold the government accountable (for the incident)." The hospital where Watanabe underwent his surgery no longer exists, and there are no records of his medical chart and other documentation.

Coming forward using one's real name as a victim of the eugenics protection law, which involves both a variety of disabilities and illnesses as well as sexual issues, is extremely difficult in Japan. The couple from Hokkaido, whose situation is unknown in the area where they live, has chosen to remain anonymous. In contrast, the man in Kumamoto has also decided not to use his real name in order to "not cause trouble for his relatives," but he apparently plans to be active under the pseudonym "Shiro Kinoshita" in order to teach others about the pain of having one's human rights violated.

Another 71-year-old woman had planned to join the suit in the Kumamoto District Court, but she was unable to complete the legal preparations in time, and postponed filing her case.

According to government statistics, there were a total of 29.48 million cases of forced abortion carried out under the eugenics protection law from 1955 to 1996, with the reason for 26,375 of those abortions listed as a hereditary disease.

Cases where women with disabilities or other illness targeted by the law had forcible abortions and were sterilized at the same time have been confirmed in municipalities all across Japan. However, little progress has been made in grasping the number of unwanted abortions, and the Hokkaido couple's suit may lead to more court cases of its kind.

(Japanese original by Nozomi Gemma, Hokkaido News Department, and Kohei Shimizu, Kumamoto Bureau)

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