During the 1960s and 70s in Greenland, under the direction of Danish government officials—Greenland transitioned from a colony to a district of Denmark in 1953—thousands of Inuit women and girls were fitted with an intrauterine device (IUD), more commonly known as a coil, a T-shaped birth control device that is inserted into the uterus in order to prevent pregnancy.
Many of the women and young girls who underwent the procedure did so unknowingly or without consent. Now known as the ‘Coil Campaign’ or ‘Spiral Campaign’, the programme was first introduced to control Greenland’s birth rate and has since been described by Danish-Greenlandic politician Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam as a form of “genocide.”
In 2017, Naja Lyberth was among the first people to publicly speak out about her experience as a victim of the campaign. Writing about it on Facebook, Lyberth revealed that she believed she was only 13 when she was instructed by a doctor to go to her local hospital and have a coil implanted following a routine school medical examination.
At the time, she was living in Maniitsoq, a small town on Greenland’s west coast. “I didn’t really know what it [was] because he never explained or got my permission,” she told the BBC in a recent interview. “I was afraid. I couldn’t tell my parents. I was a virgin. I had never even kissed a boy.”
Now 60, Lyberth is on a mission to shed light on the human rights violations committed by both Greenland and Denmark, and hold the two nations responsible. And it’s definitely been working. In 2022, Spiralkampagnen, a podcast hosted by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR), uncovered the campaign’s records.
The found records indicated that up to 4,500 women and girls—roughly half of all fertile females—had an IUD implanted in Greenland between 1966 and 1970. What’s even worse is that the procedures continued into the mid-1970s.
With girls as young as 12 being affected by the campaign, it remains unclear just how many cases lacked consent or proper explanation.
Following the podcast’s release and success, politicians and human rights organisations began calling for investigations. On 2 June, the Inatsisartut—the Greenlandic parliament—voted to demand that the Danish government investigate the history of the programme.
Later that year, the Danish and Greenlandic governments agreed to begin a two-year investigation seeking to document the background of the birth control campaign, its implementation, including Greenlandic government involvement, the reasons it began and continued, and other fertility control programmes until 1991.
Since the beginning of the mammoth investigation in September, victims have continued to come out, with one of the four most recent ones being a woman named Bebiane, who told the BBC that she believes she unknowingly had a coil inserted when she had an abortion at the age of 16, in the early 2000s.
Then, when Bebiane was 21 years old, she went to have a coil fitted—only to hear the shocking news that there was already one inside her. “I remember the tears rolling down my cheeks, and I told them that I couldn’t understand how I already had a coil in me… How could I not remember when I had it put in?” she shared with the publication.
The experience of Mira, whose real name has been changed for privacy, is even more recent. In 2019, she discovered she had a coil inserted when a doctor found it during a medical examination. “I was so shocked,” she told the BBC.
The only time it could have been inserted without her knowledge, Mira believes, would have been during a minor uterine surgery she had in 2018. After suffering intense pain following the surgery, Mira went to see a doctor who told her the coil, which she had no idea was even there, had pierced her uterus.
Mira ended up having her uterus removed completely. She further shared with the publication that because the operation was not a success, she can no longer have sex.
The coil isn’t the only contraceptive device that appears to have been inserted in some of Greenland’s female population without their knowledge. Another victim revealed that she woke up from getting an abortion in 2011 with a contraceptive implant—a small, flexible plastic rod that is placed under the skin of the upper arm.
These relatively recent experiences suggest the governmental investigation’s current scope—up until 1991—is too limited. “I would like that the investigation doesn’t stop with 1991, and that the investigation into giving contraception to women without their consent continues to the present day,” said Bebiane.