STRASBOURG, France, Fri Mar 10, 2011 ( – On March 22 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hold a hearing to investigate the allegations of a Slovakian woman of Romani ethnic origin (also known as gypsy)  who claims she was the victim of a forced sterilization during the delivery of her second child by caesarean section, in 2000 at the Prešov Public Hospital.

The applicant, known only as Ms V.C., claims she was given the sterilization consent form to sign while in pain and neither understood what she was signing nor the consequences of the procedure. She further alleges that her Romani ethnicity was a deciding factor in her sterilization and that segregation according to ethnic origin in the gynecology and obstetrics ward of Prešov Public Hospital was a common practice.

Prešov Hospital denies this accusation, asserting that the applicant’s sterilization was carried out on medical grounds – the risk of rupture of the uterus if she conceived again – and that she had given her authorization after having been warned by doctors of the risks of a subsequent pregnancy.

V.C.‘s hearing is the first of eight cases before the European Court of Human Rights of Romani women who believe that they had been sterilized without their fully informed consent in two Slovakian hospitals.

According to a summary in the Medical Law Review (MLR) the women had not been able to conceive since their last delivery, and requested photocopies of their health care records to clarify what procedures had been carried out on them.

MLR noted, “Despite extensive proceedings before the national courts, neither the women nor their legal representatives were allowed to take photocopies of their medical records.”

Ms V.C. and the seven other women petitioned the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that their treatment and subsequent denial of access to information on this treatment, breached their right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of ECHR, as well as their rights under Articles 3 – prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, 12 – right to found a family, 13 – right to an effective remedy, and 14 – prohibition of discrimination.

Gregor Puppinck, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an NGO focusing on the protection of religious freedoms and human rights, noted “two serious issues” will be addressed in this case: eugenist ideology, and the obligations of the state regarding the right to found a family.

Puppinck pointed out that the applicant made reference to a number of publications presenting the history of sterilization of Romani since the early 1970s in Czechoslovakia aimed at controlling the Romani population.

“These documents prove that many women are forced and pressured into sterilization procedures while not being fully aware of the irreversible nature of the sterilization,” Puppinck said.

“Forced sterilization is not a new practice in Europe,” Puppinck stated, adding that “the very active ‘population control’ movements have very close ties with the eugenics ideology,” which “still exists and still needs to be clearly condemned.”

With regard to the obligations of the state concerning the right to found a family, Puppinck noted that while on several occasions, the court has recognized that “there is not a subjective right to procreate,” the state does have “the obligation to refrain from hindering the foundation of a family or undermining the family life.”

“Therefore,” Puppinck concluded, “the ECLJ hopes that the Court will assert that everyone under the European Convention must be protected not only against forced sterilization, but also against “incited sterilization”, in particular when it concerns members of vulnerable groups,” and that “the State has to refrain from putting obstacles in the way of couples who wish to exercise their ability to procreate.”