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What Britney's IUD Says About Us

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What Britney's IUD Says About Us

One of the most sickening and astonishing details of Britney Spears’ June 23 testimony at the hearing to end her conservatorship came when she told the court that people controlling her refused to let her remove her intrauterine birth control device (IUD).

“I want to be able to get married and have a baby," Spears said. "I was told right now, in the conservatorship, I am not able to get married or have a baby, I have an IUD inside of myself right now, so I don't get pregnant." Britney said that she wanted to remove the contraceptive device "so I could start trying to have another baby." But, she said, "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."

In the aftermath following Spears’ twenty-minute testimony, Planned Parenthood released a statement issuing their support for Britney and condemned what they deemed “reproductive coercion” by her caretakers. Health advocates define reproductive coercion as a form of abuse in which an individual’s family planning or birth control choices are controlled by another. This manifests itself most often in pregnancy pressure (demanding a partner get pregnant), birth control sabotage (like a partner throwing out their spouse’s pills), or forced sterilization by a partner or guardian (in Britney’s case).

Though these forms of abuse are illegal, prosecuting them in the United States is nearly impossible, with vague laws that put the burden of proof on the victim.

According to a 2011 study by the CDC, 8.6% of women will experience reproductive coercion in their lifetime. A 2018 study done by the NIH estimates that number is as high as 30%.

The defense by Spears’ handlers has been that Spears cannot make decisions about her bodily autonomy due to the psychiatric drugs she is on. In the hearing, Britney mentioned she was put on the mood stabilizer lithium against her will, making her feel “drunk.” Still, Britney’s conservators think that she could perform seven days a week in sold-out Vegas shows, create choreography, design setlists, and record albums. But when it came to Britney’s uterus, she apparently can’t make the decisions for herself.

Reproductive coercion against our pop stars last took the main stage in 2018 on Saturday Night Live when comedian Pete Davidson appeared on “Weekend Update” to discuss his engagement to Ariana Grande. He joked, “Last night, I switched her birth control with Tic Tacs. I believe in us and all, but I just want to make sure that she can’t go anywhere.”

It’s obvious to say, but none of this would have happened if Britney Spears was a man. She’d simply be seen as a “loose cannon” with an “unpredictable, artistic soul.” Imagine if rapper Tory Lanez had to get a conservatorship and then a vasectomy after allegedly shooting Megan Thee Stallion last summer? Kanye West, who has been open about his mental health struggles, has never had to petition a judge to bring more babies into the world.

Rumors that Hollywood and the music industry directly police the right to reproductive care have always been around. In the book, Hollywood's Second Sex: The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900-1999, historian Aubrey Malone discussed the “morality clauses” written into stars’ contracts at studios like MGM and RKO, which included if/who to marry, if/when to have children, and beyond.

Judy Garland, a victim of one such clause, was forced to have an abortion after getting pregnant by her husband David Rose to maintain her virginal image. Today, the stringent management of K-Pop idols in Korea, including allegedly mandatory plastic surgery and a ban on supporting abortion publicly, has led many to speculate that idols are forbidden from getting pregnant or are put on “health leave” for abortions.

Back in 2007, Britney Spears’ sister, Jamie Lynn Spears’ faced massive career backlash and the cancellation of her Nickelodeon show, Zoey 101, after the sixteen-year-old got pregnant. And of course, who can forget how we treated Spears and her colleagues Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguilera and how we monitored their virginity as much as their bra size.

In America, the law and our courts reflect the true values of our power structures. And in the last few years, our society has made one thing clear: our pop stars’ bodies are the music industry’s property. In 2016, Kesha alleged that music producer Dr. Luke drugged and raped her. Her claims were dismissed by the New York Supreme Court due to the statute of limitations after an 18-month legal battle. Though Kesha was forced to drop the charges, she was sued by Dr. Luke for defamation and will likely lose that case this year after being denied an appeal in April. Echoing Kesha’s story was Lady Gaga’s open admission earlier this year that a music producer raped her at age 19, which ended in an aborted pregnancy.

Janet Jackson was not only personally sued for “indecency” after the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy, she bore the brunt of the blame for FCC fines issued to MTV (that were ultimately dismissed. Rapper M.I.A. was also sued for a half-time controversy involving her body – after throwing a middle finger on TV in 2012, the NFL launched a $1.5 million lawsuit against her. It was settled out of court).

This year, after the 2021 Grammys, Fox News commentator Candace Owens slammed Cardi B’s “WAP” performance as a “spectacle” and a display “of blatant nudity and sexualization.” When Cardi B. responded with some barbs about Candace’s family (that she deleted immediately), Owens took to television to issue a severe legal threat, "You will be able to watch this play out in the courtroom,” and said she is suing the singer with legal action for slander and libel.

Like Britney, both Rihanna and Beyonce’s own fathers, once their talent managers, have been sued by the pop stars for profiting off their names and theft long after the professional relationships have been terminated.

Meanwhile, Conservative leaders have co-opted reproductive coercion to justify the right for employers to deny contraceptive coverage in their health plans. A 2020 Supreme Court Case ruled in their favor. And it’s not getting better. In 2021 alone, there have been 561 anti-choice restriction laws proposed in State and Federal Courts. So far, 83 of those restrictions have been enacted across 16 states. As Britney said in her testimony, “it’s embarrassing, and it’s demoralizing.”

Britney’s case should be a red flag for any female, trans, or non-binary individual. If this is the way our legal system is treating the bodies of the most famous, adored, wealthy, and successful women, it’s obvious that in a court of law, the rest of us nobodies will be treated as, well, no bodies.

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