Britney Spears said many things when she addressed the court on Wednesday and spoke for 20 minutes about the way her years-long conservatorship has impacted her life, but one detail shocked her fanbase and fueled important conversations about reproductive and disability rights.
“I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” she said during the hearing. “I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have (an) IUD inside of (me) right now so I don’t get pregnant.
“I wanted to take the IUD 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.”
Spears’ words reverberated on social media, and there were more than 1 million tweets about the 39-year-old in the span of 24 hours. Much of the conversation centered on this issue, which experts say has long been a controversial aspect of situations similar to the pop star’s.
“Britney Spears has experienced the nexus of sexism and sanism in the public eye and now the court system,” says disability rights activist Rebecca Cokley. “Having her right to parent, her right to work or not to work, her very right to bodily autonomy, taken away for someone’s profit, for 13 years, is a public policy failure. One all too common for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.”
There have been key conversations about disability and reproductive rights that befall people under conservatorships like Britney Spears – and raise the question about when and how this setup can work for someone with a disability. (Photo: Allen Berezovsky / WireImage file)
In case you missed the hearing: Britney Spears details ‘abusive’ conservatorship in court. Here are the biggest revelations.
A person under a conservatorship has “fewer rights than someone who is in prison,” says Judy Mark, president of Disability Voices United. “They cannot make even the most basic choices in their lives, like who they spend time with, where they live, who they can have a relationship with.”
However, Daniel Nottes, a partner at Cassin & Cassin LLP, calls Spears’ situation “very extreme” for someone under a conservatorship.
Spears’ conservatorship began in 2008 after she suffered a very public mental breakdown in 2007. She has repeatedly spoken out against her father, James “Jamie” Spears, who has been part of managing the conservatorship from the beginning. In 2020, she told a judge in 2020 via her lawyer that “she is afraid of her father.”
Nottes notes, “In my experience doing lots of very difficult custody cases involving children and parents that have mental health issues, there are more rights and less restrictions in those cases than she has right now.”
Still, advocates say these limitations are not wholly uncommon, particularly for the disabled population.
U.K. Twitter user @Sio_and_Tell writes, “The Britney Spears case highlights a reality many disabled people face with choices and decisions taken out of our hands ‘for our own good… So it is deeply troubling and also a disability rights issue (including the part on reproductive rights).”
Law professor Robyn Powell takes theses issues personally.
“As a woman with a significant disability, I have been offered a hysterectomy more times than I can count,” Powell says. “This has been done based on assumptions about my reproductive desires rather than medical necessity.”
Just swinging by to note that the Britney Spears case highlights a reality many disabled people face with choices and decisions taken out of our hands “for our own good”. So it is deeply troubling and also a disability rights issue (including the part on reproductive rights).
Attorney Leah Goodridge says Spears’ situation is emblematic of a bigger issue with American society. “This story about regulation, misogyny and who we deem ‘able bodied’ is deeply rooted in American history,” Goodridge says.
Twitter user Sarah Lerner, like many others, also made the connection between disability and reproductive rights: “Britney Spears being held under a 13-year conservatorship and being forced to keep her IUD in despite the fact that she wants another child is where disability rights and reproductive rights intertwine.”
Lawyer Madiba K. Dennie compared the situation to 1927 Supreme Court decision “Buck v. Bell.” The court found that a Virginia law which allowed for Carrie Buck, who was in a mental institution, to be sterilized failed to violate the Constitution.
Brittney being forced to keep an IUD is giving echoes of Buck v. Bell “three generations of imbeciles are enough”
Like control over their own reproductive futures is one of many things the legal system denies disabled people
(other people too ofc but this is a unique burden)
“There is a very long history in the United States of forced sterilization of people – especially women of color – with disabilities or perceived disabilities,” says Sam Crane, legal director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
As Cokley explains, “Buck v. Bell is still law today, and allows the state to sterilize people with disabilities against their will. Britney’s IUD story is the legacy of that case.”
Britney spears having an IUD forced upon her under conservatorship should be very indicative of many of the things people deny around reproductive coercion. Like how do you think regular people are treated in regular interactions with medical providers & legal systems
And even more details: Britney Spears speaks at conservatorship hearing: Here’s what we know
Spears shares sons Sean, 15, and Jayden, 14, with ex-husband Kevin Federline. Since last summer, Spears’ lawyer Samuel Ingham III (and scores of Britney fans) has pressed to free her from her father’s control, which he has maintained, sometimes with a co-conservator, since his daughter’s life unraveled in 2007 and she lost custody of her two young children.
Cokley says that guardianships and conservatorships need not be inevitable, “nor in many cases permanent for people with disabilities. There are supported decision making models that provide the person with a disability with the supports and advice they need to still be in the driver’s seat of their lives.”
Crane agrees. “We strongly support alternatives to conservatorship, such as supported decision-making, which enable people with disabilities to retain ultimate control over who supports them and what decisions they ultimately make about their own health.”
Contributing: Sara Moniuszko, Cydney Henderson and Maria Puente, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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