Sweden Violates Transgender Rights with Forced Sterilization Law

By: Alida Miranda-Wolff

On January 19, 2012, AllOut, the online LBGTQ activist organization, added fuel to the “Stop Forced Sterilization” campaign by featuring a message from 21 year-old transgender Love Georg Elfvelin, who under a 1972 Swedish law must be sterilized in order to be officially recognized as male. The video has garnered widespread attention, especially from international human rights activists outraged by the Swedish Parliament’s failure to pass an amendment to the law or repeal it entirely.

The law requires all transgender persons to be native citizens, unmarried, at least eighteen years old, and sterilized in order for his or her gender reassignment to be recognized by the state. The law has been linked to many similar Swedish eugenic laws, aimed at “improving the quality of the population.”

Article 3 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rightsexplicitly prohibits eugenics, stating, “In the fields of medicine and biology, the following must be respected in particular: the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons”.

The Swedish Parliament, however, has thus far ignored this disturbing connection and continued to postpone the passage of the anti-forced sterilization amendment.

The deadlock in Parliament is just another example of how minority groups exert their influence to overpower the will of the majority. The Christian Democrats, the only political party that is vocally against repealing the law, have successfully convinced many of the other parties to leave the law intact. The Christian Democrats convinced even the Moderates, the party which originally challenged the law, to cease their campaign to amend the statute. This parliamentary setback has raised the ire of international human rights activists and fellow EU member-states. Portugal, Germany, and Austria struck similar laws on transgender sterilization from their national codes and have condemned the Swedish law.

The main argument against the law is that it does not just violate transgender rights, but human rights protected by Article 3 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, specifically “the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity”. Moreover, Article 4 of the same Charter proclaims, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, a provision LBGTQ rights argue the Swedish law violates.

Transgender individuals who refuse sterilization are forced to endure the public humiliation of having a different sex than the one they identify with on all of their legal documents, including ID cards and driver’s licenses. Those who do undergo the procedure, many of whom had hoped to have children in the future, lose their most basic right: to reproduce, simply because they are transgender.

While outside organizations are putting significant pressure on the Swedish Parliament to either pass the amendment or repeal the law altogether, there is no guarantee that Parliament will act accordingly. After all, similar laws still exist all over the European Union, and as we all know here in the United States, minority groups frequently end up enforcing their will.

Alida Miranda-Wolff is a second-year double major in English and Law, Letters, and Society pursuing a path in law.

Editor’s Note: To protest the sterilization law and defend transgender rights, please sign AllOut’s petition to Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt.