SAPPORO -- A court in this north Japan city has dismissed a couple's suit for the national government to pay 22 million yen (about $208,400) in damages over forced sterilization and an abortion the wife endured under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996), citing no evidence of the surgery.
The ruling, handed down by the Sapporo District Court on Feb. 4, is the nation's first decision of its kind in which the court did not acknowledge surgery claimed to have been performed under the notorious law.
The lawsuit was filed in June 2018 by a 77-year-old woman living in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture, and her husband, who passed away in August 2019 at 82.
In rejecting the suit, the district court stated that it could not evidentially confirm forced sterilization based on the eugenic protection law, and therefore did not reach a point of deciding if the law was unconstitutional.
In all, 25 plaintiffs have filed 13 similar lawsuits with nine district courts and their branches across Japan, and the latest ruling is the fifth delivered in the country.
The ruling acknowledged that the woman, who is believed to have developed an intellectual disability due to a febrile illness contracted in early childhood, became pregnant in 1981, about four years after her marriage, and underwent an abortion later the same year.
However, the ruling said, "The possibility that she had the abortion due to economic reasons cannot be ruled out," and stated it cannot be recognized that she was forced to have the surgery in accordance with the law. With regard to forced sterilization, the court said, "There is not enough evidence, such as a doctor's opinion and photographs of surgery scars, to recognize that she underwent the surgery."
In filing the suit, the couple became the first plaintiffs in the country to claim damages from an abortion in relation to the old law. After the husband died, his plaintiff status was inherited by parties including his nephew, now 59.
"Due in part to kin's opposition to the child's delivery, the husband had no choice but to sign his consent for the surgery, and the woman was forced to undergo both an abortion and forced sterilization," the plaintiffs claimed. However, the letter of consent does not exist today.
Following the court decision, the plaintiffs' lawyers indicated that they will appeal. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare released a statement saying, "We understand that the state's claim has been recognized."
In related developments, district courts in Sendai, Osaka and Sapporo turned down compensation claims from similar lawsuits in rulings delivered in May 2019, November 2020 and Jan. 15 this year, respectively. But all of these courts declared the eugenic protection law unconstitutional.
The Tokyo District Court, meanwhile, dismissed a similar suit in June 2020 without deciding on the same law's constitutionality. All four rulings rejected compensation claims for reasons including the expiration of the statute of limitations, in which the right to demand compensation expires 20 years from the time of an unlawful act.
(Japanese original by Junichi Tsuchiya, Hokkaido News Department)