Britney Spears and the Discussion of Forced Sterilization

For the past few days, my news (and Twitter) feed have been full of #freebritney posts. If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you may have missed that Britney Spears is asking for the termination of her Conservatorship, giving an impassioned speech in her own defense.

She’s forced to do what?!

One of the most appalling snippets of information that came out of Spears’ speech was that she’s being forced to maintain her IUD. Essentially, she’s been deemed “unfit” to have more children, therefore the court forces her to maintain a medical device inside her body to prevent pregnancies. What Britney is enduring is a form of forced sterilization, one that disability rights activists have been fighting against for years. There are many people who can talk about this fight much more eloquently than me. It’s very clear that Spears’ appeal intersects with disability rights. What’s more muddy is the United States long history of forced sterilization or coerced sterilization among women of color.

Eugenics and the US

Most of us, at some time in our schooling career, learned about the eugenics movement. Long story short, it was a school of thought which sought to “remove” the “bad” genetic traits in humans. What’s less known is that the US wholeheartedly participated in this movement. In the twentieth century, sixty to seventy thousand people were sterilized under state sterilization laws.

Targeted based on race..

Women of color were often targets of forced sterilization or coerced sterilization at the hands of US officials. It’s alleged that up to 25% of Native American women underwent forced sterilization at the hands of the IHS between the 1960’s and 1970s. In North Carolina, the forced sterilization of Black women increased from 23% in 1930 to 64% between 1964 and 1966.

Ok…so what?

Forced sterilization is a disabilities rights fight, but it also intersects with systemic racism. The government was willing to deem women of color as mentally unfit specifically because of their race. The women who endured forced sterilization were often poor, lacked access to education, and lacked trusted doctors. The ramification of forced sterilizations are long and far reaching. Imagine if 25% (or more) of the women in your community could not have children. Yeah. Demographics would change immensely. This is part of a larger theme on my blog, which is “who does the US deem worthy of citizenship?” When the US prevents entire populations from reproducing, its pretty clear they do NOT want more children of color to be born as citizens. The latest example of this being the allegations against ICE detention centers and the forced sterilization of women held within.

So yes, you should be enraged that Britney is forced to remain sterile and lacks access to her own children. But you should also be enraged that hers is far from an isolated case. Forced sterilization intersects with a broad range of Civil Rights abuses, and has left lasting scars on large swaths of populations within the US. Those abuses continue today, and we have to continually fight against them.

By mshipstory


I'm Lindsay Adams. I'm passionate about history, teaching, and writing.

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