Even for those who aren’t Britney Spears fans—or even very interested in pop culture—it was hard not to feel compassion listening to Britney desperately plead for freedom from a Los Angeles judge Thursday at a special hearing regarding her conservatorship.

It was particularly jarring to hear the long list of indignities the pop singer, known for hits such as “… Baby One More Time,” “Toxic,” “Womanizer,” and more, reports that she has suffered at the hands of her father and her management team. Britney stated:

I want to be able to get married and have a baby. 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.

Britney’s words paint the picture of a woman whose most basic dignities have been stripped away and who has been used, essentially, as a work horse for the benefit of others.

This is not the typical picture of a pop star. Her natural desire for marriage and children has been rejected, without any input from herself or her partner, and this mom of two sons is forced to keep an intrauterine device (IUD) inside her body against her will.

The fact that Britney even spoke publicly on this issue is remarkable. For years, Britney hasn’t said much about her situation. She is one of the few—if not the only—famous, 39-year-old, multimillionaire, American women who, according to her statement to the judge, “can’t say anything.” Her entire life, and all her money, are controlled by a court-ordered conservatorship (a legal device put in place to manage an incapacitated person’s personal and financial affairs) in 2008, following a very public breakdown. 

The physical or mental condition that holds Britney in this conservatorship has never been publicly disclosed. However, many have questioned how incapacitated Britney can be if she can also tour, produce albums, and perform 250 shows at a Las Vegas residency that brought in a reported $138 million in revenue. If she cannot make basic decisions about her own life, how can she possibly consent to take part in such business ventures?

Britney’s assertion that those in control of her life refuse to allow her to remove an IUD is particularly disturbing and calls to mind the dark days of the eugenics movement in the United States, which ran rampant throughout the 20th century. In California, where Britney resides, more than 20,000 people, judged to be “defective,” were forcibly sterilized by the state between 1909 and 1963.

Programs like this existed in more than 30 states. State-sponsored compulsory or coerced sterilizations targeted the mentally and physically disabled as well as the poor, uneducated, immigrants, and minorities.   

Perhaps the infamous case of this era was Buck v. Bell. This case centered on a 17-year-old Virginia girl, Carrie Buck, who was raped and became pregnant. The state insisted that Carrie was sexually promiscuous, “feebleminded,” and should be forcibly sterilized. The fact that she was young, poor, and uneducated made it hard for her to fight back. In court, Dr. Albert Priddy testified, “These people belong to the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.”

When Carrie’s 6-month-old baby was judged to be “below average” by a sociologist from the Eugenics Records Office, the state of Virginia ordered that Carrie be sterilized. On appeal, the case went to the United States Supreme Court, which sided with the state. Later reports indicate Carrie was of normal intelligence and, after her marriage, regretted that she was unable to have more children.

This remains one of the most shameful chapters in American history and in recent years some states, including North Carolina and Virginia, have moved to compensate victims of these barbaric programs. It should raise alarm bells to the public whenever the state (or a court-appointed authority) seeks to forcibly sterilize anyone (permanently or with a removable device like an IUD), whether they are a vulnerable popstar, an incarcerated person, or someone judged to be “defective.”

If Britney is indeed incapable of caring for herself or her affairs, it should be determined by an impartial medical professional and her affairs should be managed by someone without a major financial incentive.

However, regardless of whether the court decides to keep Britney’s conservatorship or not, it goes beyond the pale that she should not be allowed to have an IUD removed. That is a clear abuse of Britney’s most basic rights and radiates a eugenic mindset.

Carrie Buck didn’t have the benefits of social media, celebrity, or a #FreeCarrie movement. Hopefully there is a happier ending for Britney Spears.

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