Moldova: ECHR finds Moldova responsible for failing to protect women with intellectual disabilities against forced abortion and contraception
On 22 November, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in G.M. and others v. the Republic of Moldova, a case represented by a Moldovan lawyer Violeta Gaşiţoi, which Validity supported as an amicus curiae. The Court found that Moldova violated Article 3 of the Convention, which protects against abortions and contraception to women with intellectual disabilities without informed consent as a form of torture and ill-treatment.
The case concerned three women from the Bălţi psychiatric institution who had been raped and abused by the lead doctor of the institution. The same doctor then took part in a medical commission that decided that women must end their pregnancies and undergo other interventions not to become pregnant again. Validity’s intervention stressed that these practices were not merely the individual acts of a wayward doctor. Instead, they were enabled by the Moldovan legal system, which disregards the dignity and bodily autonomy of women with intellectual disabilities. As in other countries, the legal system reflects the discriminatory perspective that women with intellectual disabilities cannot make fundamental decisions for themselves and do not need to be asked before performing coercive interventions violating their reproductive rights.
These harmful stereotypes, according to which women with intellectual disabilities “should not procreate” (para 122), are heavily criticised in Court’s judgment. The Court notes that Moldova perpetuates this form of ill-treatment because of the prejudiced and paternalistic attitudes of Moldovan authorities towards women with disabilities (paras 121-122). In a shocking revelation, the Court points out that a 1994 Moldovan ministerial order determines “intellectual disability as a contraindication for pregnancy without any further assessment of medical risks” (para 123). In an important judicial acknowledgment of the central importance of supported decision-making, the Court found that Moldova failed to ensure the accessibility of information provided to patients and thus failed to ensure appropriate safeguards against coercive practices (para 119).
In reaching its judgment, the Court assessed a broad array of documents concerning the rights of women with disabilities and reports of United Nations treaty bodies in relation to Moldova, including concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and reports of Special Rapporteurs on the rights of persons with disabilities and on extreme poverty and human rights.
Validity welcomes the careful approach taken by the Court in assessing the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities in Moldova. The judgment is a much-needed step affirming the state’s duty to criminalise coercive interventions against the reproductive rights of women with disabilities. Šárka Dušková, Validity’s Legal Manager, highlights: “We especially welcome the Court’s acknowledgement that the practice of coercion in reproductive rights and bodily integrity has been a systemic form of ill-treatment, attributed to the authorities’ paternalistic attitude towards women with intellectual disabilities. The Court’s conclusion that women are entitled to support in decision-making instead of coercion is also a much-welcome reminder that women do not lose their right to legal capacity and dignity by virtue of their disability. Support rather than coercion is the response.”
Validity highlights that Moldova is not the only state in Europe which fails to protect women with intellectual disabilities against forced abortions and other violations of their reproductive rights. States which allow restrictions on legal capacity in matters of healthcare and reproductive rights still perpetuate the genocidal practices for which international organizations have criticized Moldova and other states. No women must be sterilised against their will or forced to abort. States must criminalise such practices and instead introduce mechanisms of supported decision-making for all women who may need assistance in freely and independently making decisions in some of the most intimate areas of their life.