A high-ranking Rotterdam city official has proposed that women the government has deemed ‘incapable’ of raising children should be forced to use contraception.
Rotterdam alderman Hugo de Jonge argues that judges should be able to compel—by force if necessary—women to use birth control who the state determines to be living with an irremediable learning disability, mental illness or suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction.
“It concerns children who are born into families where it turns everybody’s stomach to think that they’re having a child,” de Jonge said.
The proposal follows a recent move by the Rotterdam city council to initiate a targeted voluntary contraception program for 160 women that the city government has determined have a need to postpone pregnancy. A similar initiative launched in the city of Tilburg in 2014 has seen 80% of women in the program using long-acting contraceptives like IUDs and implants.
Alderman de Jonge would see to it that the new program is taken one step further for women who refuse to use contraception even after being enrolled in the voluntary program. De Jonge envisions that some 400 women would be enrolled in the voluntary program annually, with an estimated 10 to 20 women per annum requiring a court order for forced contraception. However, if the Tilburg program is any indication, the number of women forced to use contraception like IUDs and subcutaneous implants under de Jonge’s hypothetical proposal would be closer to 80 per annum.
The idea for forced birth control is not new in Rotterdam. De Jonge’s proposal represents at least the third attempt in recent years to institute forced contraceptive use as a matter of public policy. Just last year, Leefbaar Rotterdam party council member Ira van Winden brought a similar proposal before the city council. “If professionals think that a woman really should not have a child, then they should be able to explain that to the court,” van Winden said at the time.
A prior Rotterdam city council member even went so far as to advocate for forced abortion for women deemed ‘incapable’ of raising a child.
De Jonge’s proposal has little chance of becoming national policy in The Netherlands in the immediate future. The idea of forced contraception has been met with criticism that the policy would go too far and many have questioned the legality of such a proposal. Both the ruling party and de Jonge’s own party, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), a centrist party in The Netherlands, have soundly rejected policies of forced contraception.
Still, forced contraception has found support among some including Holland’s Labour Party. And the issue continues to be one of perennial concern in Rotterdam.
But past failed attempts have not quelled efforts to compel women to use contraception who are, according to the state, deemed ‘unfit’ to reproduce. De Jonge believes that public opinion has evolved on the issue since forced contraception last failed as a policy proposal and thinks that now may be the time for legislative action. De Jonge, a long-time alderman of Rotterdam, has worked in consultation with the ministry of health on policy proposals and believes that his message can be successful if attention is focused on how contraceptive use would protect children by preventing them from being born to ‘incapable’ mothers. De Jonge stresses that forced contraception would only be used as a “last resort”—as if victims would have a choice either way.
It is uncertain how widely a policy of forced contraception would be applied but the prospect of such a proposition, for many, has been a cause for alarm. Some observers have noted that once the state is given control over the fertility of some women, the line between who should be ‘allowed’ to reproduce and who should be prevented from reproducing quickly becomes blurred.
“Once this kind of power is given to government officials, it is certain that it will be abused in the direction of their own prejudices,” says Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute, a research group that tracks abuses in family planning programs worldwide. “What is to stop a government official from preventing a Christian woman from having a fourth child, or a third child, on the grounds that they determine she is incapable of caring for so many?” Mosher says.
Policy proposals for forced contraception are reminiscent of eugenics programs that were implemented throughout much of the Western world during the early 20th century where persons deemed ‘unfit’ to reproduce were widely subjected to coerced or forced sterilization. By the start of World War II, it is estimated that nearly 30,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized under eugenics laws in the United States and, by the war’s end, over 300,000 persons were forcibly sterilized under eugenics programs in Hitler’s Germany.
It is no subtle irony that the same groups targeted by 20th century forced sterilization programs (i.e. criminals, alcoholics, and persons with learning disabilities or mental illnesses) are precisely the same groups that de Jonge and other like-minded persons would force to use long-acting contraceptive devices. As learning disabilities and mental illnesses do not simply go away with time, it is foreseeable that, if such a policy were to take effect, for many, forced contraception could be imposed on them for the rest of their reproductive lifetimes.
Bad ideas never die; they just lie dormant for a time.