The #FreeBritney hearings have revealed shocking details about Britney Spears’ conservatorship. One of the most painful was that she has been forced to use an IUD against her will.
Spears asserted, "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... I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things."
Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Communities React
Spears’ heartbreaking claims of reproductive coercion outraged pro-choice and pro-life activists alike. And in Congress, proposals to reform conservatorship laws to prevent this type of abuse have elicited bipartisan support, from Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz.
An alliance between the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies, two tremendously powerful groups, would offer unparalleled opportunities to effect change. But it seems that both sides are too mistrustful of one another to harness this power. Instead, each side has accused the other of hypocrisy and disingenuousness, as well as exploiting Spears’ suffering to promote its own agenda.
Reproductive Coercion Deserves Our Attention
However, the issue is too important to get lost in the abortion debate. Of course, it’s not just about Britney Spears. Countless other people - especially enslaved, indigenous, immigrant, and incarcerated women - have suffered from reproductive coercion throughout history through rape, medical experimentation, and forced sterilization. Even more distressingly, iterations of these practices continue today.
Many times, this reproductive coercion is legal. For example, there is no federal oversight of reproductive, prenatal, or postpartum health care for incarcerated women. In many states, these mothers give birth while shackled to their beds, and infants are often taken away to foster care as soon as 24 hours after birth.
Similarly, as in Spears’ case, disabled adults in conservatorships can be legally stripped of their right to make decisions about their own bodies and families. The ACLU explains, “[T]here are untold thousands of people living under this same type of restrictive structure, who have lost their rights to reproductive freedom, often permanently.”
Let’s Work Together to Fix It
Reproductive coercion is a grave issue: it prevents people from making their own choices and disrespects the dignity of life.
What if, instead of doubling down on our differences, the pro-life and pro-choice movements came together to advocate for this area of mutual interest? And what if, in doing so, we built alliances that we could use to fight for other shared priorities? Both sides have become so hyper-focused on debating the legality of abortion that we’ve neglected other important priorities, many of which we have in common.
Those who are pro-life desire a world that is more hospitable to families and to life. They want to support pregnant women, low-income families, teen parents, families of children with disabilities, and other marginalized groups, not to mention other consistent life ethic priorities, such as abolishing the death penalty and offering asylum to those in danger. I’m willing to bet most pro-choice people would be on board with these ideas.
On the other hand, those who are pro-choice aspire to empower women to make their own choices. They want better funding for women’s healthcare services like mammograms and better research into women’s health issues like endometriosis. They also want women to have true autonomy to make decisions about if and when they become mothers, free from social and structural coercion (such as poverty and discrimination). Again, these are ideas that pro-lifers also tend to support.
Our country is one of the most inhospitable to pregnant women and families, compared to other wealthy nations. There is so much work to be done and we could have politicians on both sides backing these priorities if the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies both mobilized to demand action.
Many of us have friends in both camps. In a world of echo chambers, it’s rare to have diversity of opinion among close friends. Yet I do, and I’m guessing many of you do, as well. This means that we have a responsibility and an opportunity. It’s up to us to build bridges to do what seems impossible: bringing pro-lifers and pro-choicers together to make the world better for women, for families, and for life.