Britney’s Story Isn’t Unique – Fertility Control Is A Real Issue For Women

As the singer tells a court she isn't allowed to remove her IUD, Rose Stokes says reproductive control is a recurring problem for women - and one we must continue to fight.

Protestors with Free Britney placards

by Rose Stokes |

You’d be hard pressed to find a subject that is more sensitive or emotive for the majority of people than their own fertility. This is especially true when it comes to women, who since the dawn of time have been subject to a system of valuation based on their ability to conceive, carry and deliver children to the men in their life.

It is because of this that reproductive freedom is the foundation upon which the feminist movement was built, and is the reason for which our ability to control what happens to our bodies has become so inextricably linked to our equality in the eyes of the law and beyond; one simply cannot exist without the other. That is to say that we cannot truly be equal to men while they have the ability to influence or control our reproductive freedom.

And so like many others, I read the transcripts of Britney Spears’s testimony [given on Wednesday in a Los Angeles court](http://pears alleged how she had been denied the right to marry her current boyfriend, Sam Asghari, and — perhaps more shockingly — to remove her intrauterine device (IUD), as part of an ongoing conservatorship battle, with a particular mix of shock, anguish and frustration that many women will recognise.

Because despite all the progress we have made over the past 50 years in advancing the rights of women globally (although this is not by any means spread evenly around the world), if one of the richest and best known of all us is still not capable of being free, then how can any of the rest of us truly be? And what does her experience tell us about the antiquated legal frameworks that still underpin our society, and how they potentially can be manipulated by men to control women?

Spears alleged how she had been denied the right to marry her current boyfriend, Sam Asghari, and — perhaps more shockingly — to remove her intrauterine device (IUD) to be able to conceive a child.

In among a litany of what Spears herself describes as the 'abusive' behaviour she has been subjected to by her legal guardian (her father) under the guise of her conservatorship, which began during a very difficult period in her mental health in 2008, Spears alleged how she had been denied the right to marry her current boyfriend, Sam Asghari, and — perhaps more shockingly — to remove her intrauterine device (IUD) to be able to conceive a child with him.

'I would like to progressively move forward and I want to have the real deal, I want to be able to get married and have a baby,' Spears told Judge Brenda Penny in her 20-minute long, highly emotional testimony — the first time she has ever appeared in open court in the 13 years since the conservatorship began. 'I was told right now in the conservatorship, I'm not able to get married or have a baby, I have a IUD inside of myself right now so I don't get pregnant. I wanted to take the (IUD) out 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 children – any more children.'

If this sounds shocking to you, then that’s because, if true, it is. Or at least should be. But at the same time, would such actions be all that surprising when considered alongside a long history of men controlling what women can and can’t do with their bodies? Not even slightly.

'I was told right now in the conservatorship, I'm not able to get married or have a baby, I have a IUD inside of myself right now so I don't get pregnant. '

Reproductive control is a recognised form of abuse that has existed in one form or another for as long as humans have. It’s an instrument that has been employed by states, as well as eugenicists over the years, often with the goal of controlling populations by deciding who can and who cannot procreate. Within the context of romantic relationships, often referred to as reproductive coercion, it falls under the banner of what is recognised as domestic abuse and can be used by abusers to restrict and control their victims.

For those that think this sort of behaviour is limited to the pages of history books and dystopian fiction such as Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale — and no longer prevalent in modern society, I’m afraid I have some bad news. Recent research from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) into long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) shows that reproductive control is still very much an issue, and found that people with poor mental health, previous state intervention, drug and alcohol misuse, and who had disabilities were all at risk of having their autonomy undermined when it came to LARCs such as IUDs.

Even more shockingly, the research found that 'almost half of those we surveyed (43.8%) stated that they had felt pressured to use a LARC.' The report also suggests that this intersects with race and class, which is especially concerning. What these statistics show is that fertility control isn’t just a thing of the past, but is a real issue that still demands our attention.

I hope that Spears gets the freedom she so clearly deserves. So too, do I hope that her honest and brave testimony serves as a wake-up call to those who think that women have already earned equality to men.

Surely the only two questions of any relevance when it comes to whether or not someone should have a child is whether or not they want to and whether or not they have the means to give the child a healthy and safe environment to grow up in. In Spears’s case, given that she has for years been managing to work a gruelling full-time schedule with no breaks (apparently designed by her father), sustain a romantic relationship and mother to the two children she already has, I think it’s safe to say that the answer to both of those questions is a resounding YES. This is still true regardless of what her father — who has a financial interest in her life decisions and ability to work that spans way beyond what is healthy and/or emotionally safe — believes.

I hope that Spears gets the freedom she so clearly deserves. So too, do I hope that her honest and brave testimony serves as a wake-up call to those who think that women have already earned equality to men. Because the truth of the matter is that for as long as we have a legal system that allows for men to control women to the degree that Spears allegedly has been, regardless of where it is happening in the world, then none of us are truly free.

True equality means the ability to exist in whatever way we choose, supported by a society that places equal value on our existence and rights as it does with men. This must be written irreversibly into law, and be an indisputable fact, regardless of our health or wellbeing. Spears has all the money in the world and yet she says she does not have the power to decide what to do with her body or how she wants to live her life. If it can happen to her, then it can happen to any of us — and we deserve a lot better.

READ MORE: Britney Spears Says Father 'Should Be In Jail' As She Asks For End To Conservatorship

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