Spain's legislation on forced sterilisation


Until December 2020, forced sterilisation was explicitly authorised for persons “incapable of giving consent” in the Spanish Criminal Code.

However, with the adoption of the Organic Law 2/2020, in December 2020 -amending the Criminal Code- Spain repealed the provision allowing forced or non-consensual sterilisation of persons with disabilities lacking legal capacity.

Legislation about (forced) abortion

Forced sterilisation is now criminalised in article 156 of the Spanish Criminal Code. However, this article includes exceptions, for which the absence of consent shall be exempt from criminal accountability: that was the case for the sterilisation of a person without legal capacity. The article provides that “sterilisation shall not be punishable when authorised by a judge in the case of persons who are permanently incapable of giving consent as referred to in the previous paragraph when there are exceptional circumstances in which there is a serious conflict of legally protected rights as a measure to protect the greater interest of the person in question, in conformity with civil legislation.”

In its concluding observations, the CRPD Committee repeatedly expressed concerns about the forced sterilisation and abortion of women and girls with disabilities in Spain and urged the State party to repeal article 156 and abolish the administration of sterilisation and medical treatment among others on all persons with disabilities without their full and informed consent.

In its baseline report, GREVIO also expressed concerns about the power given to judges under Spanish law to authorise the sterilisation of persons who are legally incapacitated. Civil society organisations also made many calls to abolish this provision.

In December 2020, Spain finally answered these repeated calls and adopted legislation to put an end to forced sterilisation of persons with disabilities with the Organic Law 2/2020 and to align its legal framework to its obligations under the CRPD.

Legal cases on the forced sterilisation of people with disabilities

Before the adoption of the Organic Law 2/2020, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that a sterilisation procedure could be carried out on an incapacitated person because sterilisation would free her from “constant surveillance” that could be contrary to “her dignity and moral integrity, and enables her to exercise her sexuality. The Court also considered that sterilisation is beneficial for “the health of persons with severe mental impairments.”

Data related to the matter

The Spanish Committee of Representatives of Persons with Disabilities (CERMI) reported the forced sterilisation of 140 persons with disabilities in Spain in 2016.

In the first quarter of 2016, 37 court petitions for sterilisation of persons with disabilities were recorded, and in 2015, 71 sterilisation cases entered the courts.

A thousand people with disabilities have been sterilised over the past decade, according to data from the Spanish General Council.