In an open court hearing on Wednesday, pop icon Britney Spears spoke out about the details of the 13-year conservatorship that she's been living under since 2008. Among the things Spears revealed were that she'd allegedly been forced to take lithium, had been prohibited from seeing her friends, and, in one of the most shocking revelations, that she'd been kept from having her IUD taken out.
"I want to be able to get married and have a baby," Spears said during her statement to the judge. "I was told right now in the conservatorship I am not able to get married or have a baby." She told the court that she wants her IUD removed so she 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 children, any more children."
What Spears described is reproductive coercion, a term that refers to anything from an attempt to impregnate someone against their will or without their knowledge to interference with a person's contraception methods, states the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' website. Reproductive coercion often involves a person's intimate partner, but in this case, it's Spears's conservators (including her father, Jamie Spears) who are allegedly interfering with her reproductive freedoms.
"Reproductive coercion is reprehensible, no matter what form it takes — including preventing a person from seeking care to remove a contraceptive device from their own body. Everyone has the right to make these most intimate of decisions of if and when to have children," Ruth Dawson, the principal policy associate at Guttmacher Institute said in a statement to Refinery29. "Forcing someone to be on birth control against their will is a violation of basic human rights and bodily autonomy, just as forcing someone to become or stay pregnant against their will would be."
This is the first time that Spears has said she's being denied control over her own reproductive choices — and this makes her part of a larger history of people with mental health issues being denied agency over their reproductive rights. In the 1927 case Buck v. Bell, a vote by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld states' rights to forcibly sterilize people who were seen as unfit to procreate, which included many groups of people, including those labeled "mentally deficient." People of color, disabled people, and impoverished people were also often targeted.
All told, 70,000 people were forcibly sterilized as a result of this ruling. It was never explicitly overturned, although "state statutes such as the one upheld in Buck v. Bell have been repealed, and its reasoning has been undermined by a subsequent Supreme Court decision striking down a law providing for involuntary sterilization of criminals," Disability Justice reports.
Spears's allegations indicate that the conservatorship she is under allows her guardian to dictate what kind of medical care, including reproductive health care, she does or doesn't receive. That's troubling, to say the least. "The U.S. government, the medical establishment, and the court system have a long history of targeting certain groups of people for reproductive coercion and control, including communities of color, low-income families, young people, and people living with mental illness," Diane J. Horvath, MD, MPH, FACOG, an OB/GYN in Baltimore, MD, tells Refinery29.
"As an OB/GYN who sees the devastating effects of reproductive coercion on patients, I can tell you that this problem is ongoing and extremely under-recognized. I commend Ms. Spears for her bravery in talking about the reproductive coercion she has endured for so long and how it has harmed her," Dr. Horvath continues. "Every person must have the right to full bodily autonomy and the ability to decide if, when, and how to grow their family. This includes being able to select a contraceptive method that works for them, or to decide not to use contraception."
Spears has compared her father to a “sex trafficker," saying, "he loved the control he had over me one hundred thousand percent." A representative for Jamie Spears did not respond to Refinery29's request for comment.
Spears's statement was long-awaited by fans and supporters of the #FreeBritney movement, who have suspected that the singer has been under duress for quite some time, and seem very clearly to have been proven right. "I’m not here to be anyone’s slave," Spears said in the hearing. "I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m okay and I'm happy. It's a lie. I thought that maybe if I said it enough, I would maybe become happy because I've been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized … I’m so angry it’s insane. And I'm depressed."
"I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive... It is my wish and dream for all of this to end," Spears said. "I want my life back."