SAPPORO – Three more people sued the state on Thursday for damages over past sterilizations and an abortion alleged to have been forcibly carried out under the now-defunct eugenics protection law.
A married couple in Hokkaido Prefecture and a man in Kumamoto Prefecture filed the lawsuits at their respective district courts, seeking a total of ¥44 million in damages. They claim that conducting sterilizations without their consent or against their will was unconstitutional, and that the government has failed to provide relief measures.
The total number of plaintiffs in sterilization lawsuits filed against the government since January has now increased to seven.
According to the latest complaint, a Hokkaido woman with a moderate intellectual disability who is now 75, had married and became pregnant in 1981. She underwent an abortion and was sterilized in June the same year.
“The surgeries robbed us of our long-awaited opportunity to have a child as well as the right to decide whether or not to have one,” said the couple, who became the first plaintiffs to sue the state over an abortion.
Recounting the ordeal in his personal notes, her husband — now 81 — said he felt terrible for his role in allowing his wife to undergo sterilization and an abortion.
A relative had told his wife, “You’ll never be able to give birth to children nor raise them because you are mentally deficient,” and also expressed concern that the child may be deformed.
In her own notes, the wife recalled how the relative had told her about the burden of having to raise the child should she go ahead with her pregnancy. “You cannot raise a child, so we would end up having to take care of it,” she quoted the relative as telling her.
Her relatives found out about her pregnancy when she was taking a bath and then persuaded her and her husband to sign a document of consent for an abortion and surgery for sterilization.
The woman still regrets losing her chance to bear a child. “Together with my husband, I would have liked to raise our child,” she said. Her husband said he felt the same way. Even after 37 years, he still feels sorry for his wife.
After he first learned of newspaper reports on the issue in March, he was encouraged to take action. He is the first person to bring a case to court as a family member of someone who underwent surgery.
He wants to make their case known through the courts, and urged others in similar situations to fight for the cause.
Kazumi Watanabe from Kumamoto, who is now 73, had osteoarthritis as a child and was forced to undergo an orchidectomy — removal of one or both testicles — without his consent.
He found out about the operation from his parents, after realizing there was something different about him from his classmates.
In a news conference held after he filed the lawsuit, Watanabe said he had decided to go public when he left home earlier that day and that he wanted to give courage to similar victims.
“Forced surgeries must not happen again. By fighting against the state, I would like this to be my living testimony,” he said.
A string of lawsuits are now being pursued, following one filed by a woman in her 60s in Miyagi Prefecture in January.
In May, a lawyers’ group was formed to cover victims nationwide. More plaintiffs — including a woman in her 70s in Kumamoto, a married couple in Kobe and a woman in the city of Fukuoka — are expected to follow.
The state argued at a hearing on June 13 at the Sendai District Court that it is not obliged to pay compensation to sterilized people, saying that it “had no duty to legislate relief measures separately from the national compensation law.” But the court made no reference to the unconstitutionality of the eugenics law.