A recent special hearing regarding the Britney Spears conservatorship revealed shocking details about how the famous pop star is being treated by her father and management team. Most heartbreaking of all was the revelation that the conservatorship will not allow the 39-year-old to remove her intrauterine device (IUD) so she can have another child. This instance of forced contraception, which amounts to temporary sterilization, adds momentum to the already trending #FreeBritney hashtag spearheaded by fans who want to see her father’s abusive conservatorship end.
Under her father’s conservatorship, Britney has been rendered powerless to make her own decisions. She stated, “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.” The pop superstar and mother of two should be free to pursue having a family, as should all women.
No one should be subjected to the indignity and despair that results from forced sterilization, even a temporary kind via an IUD. Sadly, Britney is far from being the only person suffering this type of fate today. The Chinese government is currently enacting a large-scale campaign in Xinjiang to forcibly sterilize Uyghur Muslim women. These forced sterilizations, which include IUDs and tubal ligations, are a critical element of the Chinese government’s ongoing effort to limit Uyghur births, an effort that the United States has declared a genocide. Worse, President Biden doesn’t seem all that concerned that reinstating funds to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will contribute to the problem.
One Uyghur woman previously detained in Xinjiang’s internment camps told the Associated Press that officials in her camp installed IUDs in every woman of childbearing age. At almost 50 years old, she pleaded and promised that she would not have more children. Nonetheless, she and hundreds of other women were herded onto buses and sent to the hospital for their IUDs. Some wept silently, and all were too afraid to resist publicly.
For 15 days, this woman suffered from continual menstrual bleeding and headaches. She claimed, “I couldn’t sleep properly. It gave me huge psychological pressure.” She added, “Only Uyghurs had to wear it.”
Gülgine, a Uyghur gynecologist who fled to Turkey, confirms stories like this. She recounted in an interview, “A lot of women were put on the back of a truck and sent to the hospital” for their IUD implants. “The [sterilization] procedure took about five minutes each, but the women were crying because they did not know what was happening to them.”
Researcher Adrian Zenz found that officials planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in some rural areas of Xinjiang to IUDs or sterilizations by 2019. The devices used in Xinjiang can only be removed surgically by state-approved doctors.
According to Zumret Dawut, Xinjiang hospitals require permission from five government offices before removing an IUD. Concerning her own compulsory IUDs, the mother of three told Radio Free Asia, “They caused a lot of problems for me. I passed out, lost consciousness, several times after the insertions.”
Earlier this year, Chinese state media took to Twitter to argue that the sterilization program liberates Uyghur women, “making them no longer baby-making machines.” The post was later deleted, but the abuses have continued. It is not liberation for Uyghur women—or Britney, for that matter—to be sterilized and made to labor for the benefit of a state or a conservator.
It is tempting, but incorrect, to assume Uyghur sterilizations are far removed from American politics. When President Joe Biden announced his intention to reinstate funding to the UNFPA earlier this year, he paved the way for American funds to go to an organization that partners with China’s National Health Commission (NHC). This is at a time when the United States has determined that the Chinese government is committing genocide in Xinjiang hospitals through forced sterilizations and abortions.
Although the UNFPA may not directly fund sterilizations in Xinjiang, its cooperation with the National Health Commission enables the NHC to divert other funds elsewhere. The hard-earned money of American taxpayers should not be supporting atrocities abroad, even indirectly.
Britney’s conservatorship, and her father and management team’s decision to retain her IUD against her will, brings the issue of forced sterilization closer to home for Americans. Fans and non-fans alike are empathetic as the pop star’s basic rights are violated.
Vulnerable celebrities in America and persecuted minorities in China deserve the freedom to have families and as many children as they desire. The American court system should work on freeing Britney, and the world should work towards freeing the Uyghur people.