The most unsettling detail in Britney Spears’ half-hour monologue Wednesday was not the mention of $60,000-a-month rehab or the lithium she was prescribed, but the revelation that her conservatorship prevents her from going off birth control and having another child.
In testimony before a Los Angeles County probate judge, Spears, 39, said that she has an IUD, or intrauterine device, and wants it removed so she can try to have a 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 children — any more children. So basically, this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good.”
Spears, who is unmarried but in a relationship with actor Sam Asghari, is petitioning the court to end the conservatorship that has controlled her personal life and finances since 2008. It is an arrangement that the Los Angeles Times has called “highly unusual,” given that legal guardianships are typically imposed to help people who can’t take care of themselves. The conservatorship was supposed to be temporary, but 13 years later, her father still controls her work, finances and, apparently, her ability to conceive.
While Spears’ charge has not been confirmed, the revelation turned the genre of the story on its head. With dizzying speed, a family drama turned to tragedy tinged with horror.
In the series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” women are forced to bear children. Even if only temporary, the forced infertility of a woman nearing the end of her childbearing years seems equally dystopian.
In fact, there is precedent for what is known as court-compelled contraception. In 2003 in Michigan, a judge ordered a mother of two accused of abuse and neglect to use “verifiable” birth control, an order that the local ACLU opposed, saying that an IUD is an “intrusive measure” with potentially serious side effects.
Similarly, in 1988, an Arizona mother convicted of child abuse was ordered to use birth control as long as she was of childbearing age as a condition of probation.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, said in 1972 that the government should not intrude in a person’s decision to have a child.
Writing for the majority in a landmark case on whether single people had the right to birth control, Eisensadt v. Baird, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote, “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion in matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”
Spears, of course, doesn’t want birth control. She wants another shot at a family. After two failed marriages, she lost custody of her two sons in 2008, and said in her testimony that she is tired of being alone.
“I would like to progressively move forward and I want to have the real deal. I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” Spears said.
Somehow, her plaintive cry for a family — the “real deal” that millions of Americans enjoy without a court’s permission every day — has turned into an argument for expanding access to abortion, with Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights supporters using Spears’ testimony to decry “reproductive coercion.”
“We stand in solidarity with Britney and all women who face reproductive coercion. Your reproductive health is your own — and no one should make decisions about it for you,” Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said on Twitter, using the hashtag #FreeBritney.
After Spears’ testimony, the nonprofit news website The 19th* quickly weighed in with a history of forced sterilization. The article quotes New York University law professor Melissa Murray who said, “This is shocking to a lot of people. It probably shouldn’t be.”
Calling forced sterilization a “still relatively common practice,” writers Jennifer Gerson and Barbara Rodriguez mention that Spears’ family is from Louisiana, then note that the state has “some of the country’s strictest and most aggressive abortion regulations.”
“Should Roe v. Wade be overturned at any point, abortion would immediately become illegal there,” they wrote. A Planned Parenthood ad was atop the story.
Meanwhile, while abortion-rights supporters are using Spears’ words to promote abortion access, Spears yearns for a husband and a baby. It’s a head-scratching turn in a stomach-turning case.