Paul Catalanotto: Where are the pro-lifers?

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When Britney Spears needed people to stand up for her, where were pro-life advocates, asks Paul Catalanotto. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIACOMMONS CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the most famous women in the world has recently testified in court to being sterilised against her will, and the silence from the pro-life movement has been deafening.

Britney Spears is currently the talk of the town with her emergence back into the pop culture limelight, sadly not for a recent record or tour, but for her seeking an end to her 13-year conservatorship (an extreme type of legal arrangement in which all individual decisions, including medical decisions, are handed to a third party) that followed her 2007 mental breakdown.  Whether or not she is mentally competent is not the issue here; however, there is one aspect of Britney’s testimony that should make all feminists and pro-lifers take notice.

At the end of her testimony, she mentioned how her conservators force her to keep her IUD (contraception that can endure in a person for five -10 years). To put it simply, Britney Spears has alleged she is forcibly being sterilised by those who manage her affairs, who, until recently, included her father.

Catholics do not have the luxury to pick and choose pro-life battles and still claim to have a consistent life ethic, yet on the issue of Britney’s alleged forced sterilisation, the pro-life community is silent.

The United Nations lists forced sterilisation in its list of “Crimes Against Humanity”. Bioethicists would say forced sterilisation violates bodily autonomy. Yet, the only people that seem to be speaking against Spears’ allegation of forced sterility is the Planned Parenthood Federation of America President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson, who tweeted in support of Britney about the travesty of the “reproductive coercion” Spears is experiencing.

The issue here is not whether Spears will be or is a good parent. There is no test for people to pass when considering parenthood. Many might argue that there are parents who should not be parents, and then there are those who are not parents who many might say should be parents, but those judgements are not left to the peanut gallery to pass.

Indeed, the issue is not even whether Spears is mentally competent.  The issue is whether it is permissible and even pro-life to tolerate the forced temporary sterilisation of a woman who, as far as can be known, is not under threat or danger of being sexually assaulted.  The morality of this latter circumstance – first discussed in the Vatican during the 1950s – has not been determined by the Church.

Catholics do not have the luxury to pick and choose pro-life battles and still claim to have a consistent life ethic, yet on the issue of Britney’s alleged forced sterilisation, the pro-life community is silent. Even the conservative pro-life websites have been quiet.  The Buck v Bell Supreme Court case of 1927 in the US made it legal in the US to forcefully sterilise “the manifestly unfit”. Justice Pierce Butler was the only dissenter; he was also the only Catholic on the court.

Spears will eventually emerge from her conservatorship, and when she does, she is entitled to turn to those who profess to be pro-life and say, “where were you?”  When it comes to reproduction, the dignity of the woman presupposes the dignity of the foetus.

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