Mississippi State University’s Gender Studies Program recently hosted an online discussion titled “#FreeBritney: Achieving Reproductive Justice for All People with Disabilities.” Robyn Powell, a professor at Stetson College of Law, was a guest speaker at the event.
Powell, who focuses on disability law and policy, identifies as disabled and served as legal counsel to the National Disability Council.
Powell spoke to MSU students about her work to end the reproductive oppression of people with disabilities and drew examples from the recent movement, #FreeBritney.
#FreeBritney relates to the case of Britney Spears, who was placed in legal guardianship by her father, Jamie Spears.
Her mental health and disability gave her control over her finances, reproductive rights and estate.
The fight to break the conservatorship resulted in a movement of fans who supported Spears’ right to be free from her father’s restrictions.
The #FreeBritney movement has exposed many issues regarding the reproductive rights of people with disabilities.
As a result, the pop star’s 13-year conservatorship ended in November 2021.
“Spears’ case has brought to light thorny questions about conservatorship. Activists say such legal restrictions are ripe for abuse or limit the civil rights of conservatives,” Tsioulcas wrote.
Powell educated students about contemporary reproductive oppression in the disability community and how guardianships, such as the case of Spears and her father, contribute to it.
“We need to get rid of guardianships and guardianships. It’s an outdated system that’s not needed and really grossly oppresses people,” Powell said.
Powell listed numerous discriminatory attacks on the reproductive rights of people with disabilities, such as restrictions on sexuality, threats to parenthood, and denial of reproductive decision-making.
These issues also directly affected Spears during her conservatorship.
Kimberly Kelly, director of gender studies at MSU, discussed the reproductive injustice of people with disabilities and showed her support for the movement.
“Reproductive freedom and reproductive justice require us to affirm and empower people — to ensure they have the support they need to parent or not to parent,” Kelly said.
Powell emphasized inclusiveness with reproductive rights and she wanted to create a more accepting environment for people with disabilities.
“I believe we can use a reproductive disability framework to expand reproductive freedom for all. When we target those who are most vulnerable, everyone benefits,” Powell said.
Those present had the opportunity to ask questions.
Many students submitted questions that were answered after Powell’s testimony.
Rheagan Case, an English major, attended the discussion for her Feminist Theory class and shared her thoughts on what she learned.
“Learning about how Britney Spears’ case relates to people with disabilities and their reproductive rights was very interesting and informative,” Case said. “Some of the facts in the lecture were so surprising, and I really learned a lot.”
Case said she was inspired after learning about the disregard for the sexual and reproductive health rights of people with disabilities.
As a Spears fan, Case watched the move unfold, but said she gained a new perspective after Powell’s discussion.
“It didn’t occur to me that the issues she faced were also inflicted on many other people with disabilities,” Case said. “I was very inspired to leave the discussion and I hope to be able to defend these rights.”
Powell said the high-profile end of Spears’ conservatorship was an effective step in the right direction, but the fight for reproductive freedom for people with disabilities is far from over.
“Above all, future fights for reproductive freedom must be fully inclusive of all people with an intentional focus on historically marginalized populations,” Powell said.