June 28, 2021

Britney Spears

“After 13 years of near silence in the conservatorship that controls her life and money, Britney Spears passionately told a judge Wednesday that she wants to end the ‘abusive’ case that has made her feel demoralized and enslaved. Speaking in open court for the first time in the case, Spears condemned her father and others who control the conservatorship, which she said has compelled her to use birth control and take other medications against her will, and prevented her from getting married or having another child.” AP News

Both sides are critical of the conservatorship process:

“Spears, who will be 40 this December, has been under her father’s conservatorship since 2008. Jamie Spears has controlled not only his daughter’s $60 million fortune but every aspect of her career and life — from terms of her Las Vegas residency to whether she could replace her kitchen cabinets… Conservatorships are typically granted only in extreme cases: A person is suffering from dementia or some other dire limitations. Spears, a mother of two, has successfully performed in Vegas for years without incident. How hapless can she be?…

“It will be fascinating to see how this plays out now, post-#MeToo. Here we have a ‘troublesome female’ — a child star sexualized as a young teenager, who shot to global superstardom, the media hounding her over whether she was still a virgin, a girl whose every relationship, parents included, was based on what she could do for them — claiming that her father has forcibly institutionalized her and forced her to perform against her will, once as she suffered from a 104-degree fever… Historically we’ve seen a lot of erratic, self-destructive behavior from male celebrities. Can you think of one who has been kept under conservatorship for years — or ever?”
Maureen Callahan, New York Post

If this is the way that judges have treated an able-bodied adult capable of running a successful concert tour, of raking in millions in residency performances, then what chance does any marginalized person have in navigating their state’s guardianship or conservatorship system?…

“Spears’ story is heartbreaking, especially for so many fans who saw her music and work as their own expressions of adolescent freedom. But beyond what has happened to her is a larger story of what may be happening to so many other people who are on the wrong end of the conservator or guardianship system—to disabled people facing down the pathologies of the world, to elderly people having their autonomy brutally taken away, to women whose feelings and experiences are dismissed as trivial, untrustworthy hysteria. She is a symbol for those people, and for anyone who ever expected the justice system to work for them but instead found that it was rigged against them.”
Samantha Grasso, Discourse Blog

“Absent the determination of some kind of permanent cognitive incapacity—like an actual hole in your head—I’d argue that something as restrictive as a forced conservatorship should be self-terminating: It should automatically lapse after a year or two or something. Instead, the law goes the other way: Conservatorships can last indefinitely until a court deems them no longer necessary. The court is supposed to send an inspector every year to determine if the conservatorship is still needed, and apparently the person overseeing the Spears case has determined that for the past 13 years Spears could sing and dance for millions of people but couldn’t be trusted to get a haircut…

“Other than that nameless functionary doing the right thing, the only other way for Spears to get out of it is to petition the court to end the conservatorship. According to Spears herself, she didn’t know that was an option… Obviously, the person who is supposed to know is not Spears but her lawyer. But even here, Spears was not free to make her own choice. Spears’s lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham, was appointed by the court, over Spears’s objection, 13 years ago. It’s not clear to me what Ingham has done for his client these 13 years, other than collect a check, but it sure seems like the #FreeBritney people have done more.”
Elie Mystal, The Nation

“One of the main difficulties in fighting conservatorship abuse is a lack of data. Conservatorships are overseen by local courts, and the majority of states—including California, where Spears lives—don't keep track of how many conservatorships are ongoing… Sometimes, the exploitation can be subtle. ‘Commonly, conservators run up their fees in ways large and small, eating into seniors' assets,’ the [Los Angeles] Times reported. ‘A conservator charged a Los Angeles woman $170 in fees to have an employee bring her $49.93 worth of groceries. Palm Springs widow Mary Edelman kept paying from beyond the grave: Her conservators charged her estate $1,700 for attending her burial.’…

“In order to solve this problem, experts suggest creating a comprehensive online information system to keep track of and oversee conservatorship cases. They also recommend taking more significant measures to guarantee the conservatee's rights to due process. Conservatees and their families should know about and have access to the legal means to end conservatorships.”
Ella Lubell, Reason

Both sides are particularly upset at claims that Spears is on birth control against her will:

“Step back and ask yourself: Should we be able, even temporarily, to sterilize a woman against her will on grounds of being mentally unwell? There are grave problems of both morality and individual liberty with that… I cannot see what argument there could be for a court in the United States of America to sanction a regime under which an adult woman who is well enough to ply her trade in society can be forced to carry a contraceptive implant she does not want. This is one area on which pro-lifers and conservative Christians should be in complete agreement with Planned Parenthood, which issued a statement supporting Spears…

“We should also be asking: If our legal system can do this to Britney Spears, how many other women is it happening to? The California supreme court, in the 1985 decision Conservatorship of Valerie N, concluded that there was a constitutional right to choose sterilization, and reasoned that a woman who was mentally disabled and incapable of making her own decisions should have a right to have her conservators decide that she be sterilized… the high-profile nature of [this] case should be an occasion for us to rethink the scope of what the law allows to be done to women’s capacity to bear children.”
Dan McLaughlin, National Review

“In more than half of states, conservators are permitted to inflict not just long-term birth control, like Spears’ IUD, but permanent sterilizations on those deemed unfit to make the decisions for themselves. But who, exactly, gets deemed unfit? Sanity is a slippery thing and mental health a difficult status to assess: historically, many have been deemed insane for simply having unpopular opinions, or for behaving in ways that were offensive to common attitudes and contrary to convention. This is particularly true of women, who have a long history of being deemed insane for trivial reasons by those who are either committed to misogyny or interested in their money.”
Moira Donegan, The Guardian

“Britney’s assertion that those in control of her life refuse to allow her to remove an IUD is particularly disturbing and calls to mind the dark days of the eugenics movement in the United States, which ran rampant throughout the 20th century. In California, where Britney resides, more than 20,000 people, judged to be ‘defective,’ were forcibly sterilized by the state between 1909 and 1963…

“Perhaps the infamous case of this era was Buck v. Bell. This case centered on a 17-year-old Virginia girl, Carrie Buck, who was raped and became pregnant. The state insisted that Carrie was sexually promiscuous, ‘feebleminded,’ and should be forcibly sterilized. The fact that she was young, poor, and uneducated made it hard for her to fight back. In court, Dr. Albert Priddy testified, ‘These people belong to the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.’… Later reports indicate Carrie was of normal intelligence and, after her marriage, regretted that she was unable to have more children…

“This remains one of the most shameful chapters in American history and in recent years some states, including North Carolina and Virginia, have moved to compensate victims of these barbaric programs. It should raise alarm bells to the public whenever the state (or a court-appointed authority) seeks to forcibly sterilize anyone (permanently or with a removable device like an IUD), whether they are a vulnerable popstar, an incarcerated person, or someone judged to be ‘defective.’”
Nora Sullivan, Daily Signal

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