In leaked footage of Britney Spears’s emotional testimony from a hearing to protest her legal conservatorship, Spears made a particularly disturbing allegation about her intrauterine device (IUD), a method of birth control. Spears wants her IUD removed, but alleges her conservatorship team is forcing her to keep it in her body against her will.
“I want to get married and have a baby,” said Spears, according to a transcript from New York Magazine’s Vulture. “I was told right now in the conservatorship that I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an [IUD] inside my body right now.”
“I wanna get pregnant,” Spears continued. “I want it taken out so I can 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 any more children.”
Trends in contraceptive use show long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) are some of the fastest-growing in popularity. Billed as “set it and forget it” contraceptive methods, LARCs include various forms of IUDs and subdermal implants. These devices are inserted into women’s bodies, preventing pregnancy for years, and cannot be safely removed by anyone except trained medical personnel (the lone exception is Depo-Provera, the “birth control shot,” which is injected into a woman’s body and prevents pregnancy until its effects wear off months later).
Some women have reported pushback from their doctors after asking to remove their IUDs, prompting them to turn to the internet for “how to” guides on removing devices themselves (especially at the height of the pandemic, when “routine” medical appointments were often difficult to secure).
In a response to Spears’s testimony, Planned Parenthood released a statement condemning any form of “reproductive coercion,” including coercion to keep an unwanted contraceptive device. The sad irony of this grandstanding is, in 2011, staff at Planned Parenthood affiliates showed their willingness to help pimps obtain contraceptives for their underage prostitutes in a series of undercover videos produced by LiveAction.
Evidence collected by scholars Laura J. Lederer and Christopher A. Wetzel corroborated the exchanges in the LiveAction videos. They published their findings in 2014 in the journal “Annals of Health Law,” in an article titled “The Health Consequences of Sex Trafficking and Their Implications for Identifying Victims in Healthcare Facilities.”
The LiveAction videos and Spears’s case aren’t the only examples of IUDs (or other LARCs) being used to aid and abet coercion, abuse, and exploitation of girls and women. In fact, because LARCs cannot be interfered with in the same way birth control pills can be, well-meaning campaigns often steer victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) towards these forms of contraception.
While these methods of contraception help prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring in unstable, harmful relationships, they do nothing to mitigate the ongoing abuse, and each carry health risks. In the case of Depo-Provera, one of the greatest risks for women is a known increase in susceptibility to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Furthermore, as Nigerian women’s health activist and biomedical scientist Obianuju “Uju” Ekeocha has detailed in her book “Target Africa,” women in Africa are often implanted with LARCs like IUDs, then made to pay exorbitant sums of money to have the device removed. And as recent investigations by Spotlight on America have shown, IUDs carry real risks to women. They can break and migrate in women’s bodies, sometimes causing serious and irreparable damage. These dangers can also be present in the non-hormonal IUD Paragard, often billed as a “natural” alternative to hormonal forms of birth control (as if a copper-wrapped object implanted in a woman’s uterus could ever be “natural”).
Spears’s gut-wrenching testimony starkly illustrates that when women cede control of their bodies to devices like IUDs, it paves the way for an alarming loss of bodily autonomy — all the more horrific for women who were forced to have the device implanted in the first place. Marketed as “liberating” women from their reproductive systems, all too often contraceptives demean and diminish, further treating women’s bodies as objects to be controlled.
Sadly, Spears’s case is yet another example in a long history of sterilization and birth control being used to control women. Women who are willing and able to seek true autonomy over their reproductive lives would do better to learn a method of fertility awareness that empowers a woman to work with her body, rather than against it. Fertility awareness methods give a woman true control over her body, rather than allowing a foreign object, device, or chemical cocktail to control her.