​#FreeBritney, Reproductive Justice, and Disability Justice

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on November 15, 2021 # Lifestyle

Paper and pen with notesLast week I presented at a local college about #FreeBritney and how reproductive justice and disability justice overlap. I started my presentation by asking the audience of college students a series of seven questions, which they were able to answer anonymously through a virtual platform. The answers that they gave are revealing, and help to demonstrate how society continues to devalue people with disabilities.

Every question I asked had three possible answers to choose from: Yes, No, or I don't know.

Here are the questions and the answers that the students gave:

  1. Would you be concerned if a family member or loved one was going to marry a person with a disability?
  2. Would you be concerned if a family member or loved one told you that they were expecting a baby with their disabled spouse?
  3. Should disabled people have babies?
  4. Would you be concerned if a family member or loved one told you that they were going to marry Britney Spears (and they were serious)?
  5. Would you be concerned if a family member or loved one told you that they were going to have a baby with Britney Spears?
  6. Should Britney Spears have babies?
  7. Do you support reproductive justice?

Yes: 25% No: 50% I don't know: 25%

Yes: 60% No: 25% I don't know: 15%

Yes: 50% No: 25% I don't know: 25%

Yes: 30% No: 55% I don't know: 15%

Yes: 0% No: 75% I don’t know: 25%

Yes: 100% No: 0% I don’t know: 0%

Yes: 100% No: 0% I don’t know: 0%

After asking all of the questions and reviewing the answers with the crowd, I asked them, "How can 100% of you support reproductive justice if 50% of you think disabled people should have babies or aren't sure if we should? Do you believe reproductive justice only applies to nondisabled people?" I also asked, "How can 100% of you support Britney Spears having babies, but 50% of you do not support disabled people having babies? Do you understand that Britney Spears is a person with a disability?"

While we might not know Britney's specific diagnosis, we do know that people only end up under a conservatorship or guardianship if they have some sort of disability.

After this, we discussed how most people think of Roe v. Wade when we talk about reproductive rights, but most people do not know about Buck v. Bell, a 1927 Supreme Court case that determined that compulsory sterilization of the "unfit," including the people with disabilities, "for the protection and health of the state" does not violate the Constitution. Most of the students in the room had no idea that this case existed, and they were shocked when I told them that this case had never been overturned.

We went on to discuss how women and men with disabilities have their bodies and choices controlled by other people – often against their will – all the time. We talked about the 1.3 million people in the United States who are under guardianship, and how Britney Spears is only one of them.

I shared with the students that disabled parents are much more likely to lose custody of their children due to discrimination, not parenting skills. We're also denied adoption more often and denied fertility treatments frequently.

The students seemed surprised by these facts, and even expressed outrage that this was discriminatory and unfair, but then I reminded them that 25% of the students in the room expressed that disabled people shouldn't have babies and another 25% said that they weren't sure if disabled people should have kids.

If at least 50% of society questions whether a person with a disability should have children, is it really all that surprising that we're discriminated against as parents or prospective parents?

We need to see #FreeBritney as a movement larger than just Britney Spears. We need to realize that people with disabilities have our bodies controlled without our consent regularly in the United States and society often tells us that we cannot or should not be parents.

This begs the question – why do we care about Britney, but not all the other people with disabilities who are experiencing the same harms? More importantly, when Britney finally is free, will you forget about the rest of us?

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.