Let’s say there’s a woman, aged 39, who’s been working diligently—in the form of playing sold-out shows—for the last decade. She already has two teenage sons, and she and her longtime partner have been talking about trying for another baby—but they can’t, because the woman has a birth control device implanted in her body that she’s not allowed to remove. If any of that sounds off, you might understand why the recent revelation that under her conservatorship, Britney Spears has not been allowed to have her IUD removed sparked so much outrage.
“I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” Spears said on Wednesday in a public plea to be freed from the legal and financial control of a team including her father, Jamie Spears. “I was told right now in the conservatorship I am not able to get married or have a baby.” Spears told the court that she had asked to have the IUD removed “so I could start trying to have another baby, but this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have...any more children.”
Many rushed to condemn Spears’s conservators in the wake of her testimony, including Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson:
While Spears’s case is unique given her international celebrity, it’s difficult to hear her speak about being forbidden to expand her family without thinking of other examples of women’s reproductive options being limited. Forced contraception has a long and dark history around the world, with one recent example being the Chinese government’s use of IUDs, sterilization, and abortion to bring down birth rates among Uighurs (a Central and East Asian ethnic group) and other minorities. However, anyone content to think that forced contraception or sterilization is a scourge that happens far from the U.S. would do well to consider the case of Dawn Wooten, a Georgia nurse working at an ICE detention center who filed a complaint in 2020 about the high number of hysterectomies performed on immigrants.
Reproductive rights are often discussed solely within the context of abortion, and as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on a major new restriction to abortion rights in Mississippi, those conversations are more important than ever. Nevertheless, one of the most important rights still frequently denied to women in the U.S. is the right to parent, whether that happens through contraception (as in Spears’s case) or family separation at the border and within the American prison system.
“I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does, by having a child, a family, any of those things,” Spears said in her testimony, and it’s difficult to imagine how an adult who can handle the pressure of doing a Vegas residency would be deemed unfit to control her own reproductive future. Hopefully, Spears’s ordeal will open up a necessary dialogue about who we find worthy of having ownership over their bodies and lives.