How #FreeBritney relates to the Reproductive Justice Movement

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by TeenSource Interns Fahima Zaman + Tiffany Linh

I’m sure you have heard about the recent #FreeBritney movement and how even as a famous, legendary musician with millions of dollars, (and a white woman), Britney has been barred from the freedom to make decisions about her own reproductive health. She recently informed the public that she had an IUD that she does not want, that prevents her from having more children with her current partner – something she has said she does want. Many were shocked to hear this and recognized this practice as reproductive coercion and a violation of Britney’s bodily autonomy.

What is bodily autonomy? 
Bodily autonomy is a person’s ability and right to choose what happens to their own body. 

What is reproductive coercion?
Reproductive coercion is behavior that interferes with a person’s ability to make decisions about their own bodies, reproduction, and reproductive health. Examples of this could be messing with someone’s birth control or pressuring them into a decision about their pregnancy. 

Reproductive Coercion in the U.S.

Unfortunately, our country has a dark history of systemically controlling the bodies of and reproductive decisions of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC), disabled people, and queer communities. Women in the prison system have had their reproductive rights controlled for years. For example, nearly 150 women in California prisons underwent forced tubal ligations from 2004 to 2012 after being deemed likely to return to prison by prison medical staff. In Tennessee, a judge offered inmates a reduction in prison time in exchange for undergoing a birth control procedure. As a result, 32 women received birth control implants. Violations of bodily autonomy have not only been committed towards cis-women, but to transgender and non-binary folks as well. For many transgender individuals, changing their birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender requires them to undergo sterilizing medical procedures. These acts of reproductive coercion reflect are just a few examples of the practices and policies that sparked the contemporary Reproductive Justice Movement. 

Quick Facts

History of forced sterilization in the United States

Forced sterilization is a common way that the government has inflicted reproductive coercion upon marginalized communities, namely within BIPOC communities. States began to create laws to sterilize those who they considered “feebleminded” in 1907. From the 1930s to 1960s, sterilizations were performed on many institutionalized people, the majority of whom were women. California forcibly sterilized the most number of people during this time, sterilizing 20,000 out of the around 60,000 total around the country. In the 1970’s an estimated 40% of Native American women and 10% of Native American men underwent sterilization without informed consent, which means that doctors had recommended sterilization to this population as an appropriate form of birth control without informing them about alternative forms of birth control and about the irreversibility of the procedure.  

What’s being done today?

  • Regulations have been created around sterilization requiring informed consent. 
  • President Biden has removed the Hyde Amendment from his budget for the first time in 45 years. This amendment prevents federal funding to be used for abortions which essentially forces Medicaid patients to pay for abortions themselves, negatively affecting the options that many low income and BIPOC people have access to.  The removal of this amendment is the direct result of years of work that Reproductive Justice groups have put in for years. 
  • The reproductive justice group, All* Above All has introduced a bill, the EACH Act, that would get rid of federal abortion coverage restrictions. 
  • California is soon to pass legislation that includes reparations of up to $25,000 for people who were forcibly sterilized. They would be the third state to do so, after Virginia and North Carolina. 

What can you do to take action?

  • Learn and acknowledge the Black and Brown origins of the Reproductive Justice Movement
  • Do some research on your elected officials to see where they stand on reproductive justice priorities.
  • Follow leaders of the Reproductive Justice Movement on social media to stay up to date with current reproductive justice topics! Reproductive Justice activists are great resources to make sure you keep informed of issues that affect bodies that can make a pregnancy.