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How Britney Spears’s conservatorship testimony sparked America’s disability and reproductive rights discourse?

 The most precious thing to humans is their freedom; the freedom to choose to love, move, wear, bear and take decisions of one’s life. Imagine a life without the most fundamental thing — the freedom– being snatched from you and your adult life being governed by your kin?  It is unimaginable and inhumane, to say the least. But one individual whose life is being governed under the most unimaginable circumstances so much so that she can’t even bear a child reflects the distorted system. Britney is not alone, although there is limited data on conservatorships,  a National Council on Disability report estimates that at least 1.3 million Americans are under guardianship. Once people are under a conservatorship, there can be periodic reviews, but the process varies by state and there is little oversight. It further underlines the crooked reproductive and disability rights of great America.  

“This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” Britney Spears said, detailing how her legal guardians have dictated where she lives, works and receives therapy, stopped her from seeing friends, forced her to take medication against her will and prevented her from having her IUD removed so she could try to get pregnant. “I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things.”

But while Spears’ speech was astounding for many audiences, disability rights lawyers and advocates say what she described is not surprising for many conservatorships in the United States, which are typically instituted for elderly adults, people with mental illnesses or those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Spears is the nation’s most high-profile conservatee, however, there are numerous people with disabilities who have been fighting to reform conservatorships for years. Spears case gives them hope that the attention paid to her case can give momentum to rethink the entire system.

Everybody deserves their freedom but in the disability community, we rarely discuss this type of testimony that Britney has presented. Britney has been in the spotlight since she first appeared on the “All-New Mickey Mouse Club”  at the age of 11. Later as years went by, the constant media pressure and exposure created an unfavourable image of her, where she was considered to be a bad influence on youth. The infamous 2007 mental meltdown of Britney Spears is still a much-talked incident. After conservatorship, her father stepped in to take the role of co-conservatorship with few other members. Last week when she appeared to give her statement, it appeared that her so-called conservatorship did way more harm than good.  Revealing how her father controlled all her activities after she was classified as “Greatly Disabled”. She has been legally deemed unfit 13 years ago to take care of herself which is why her father takes all the decisions on behalf of her. Britney’s fans have started the moment called “#FreeBritneyMovement” which has been going on for a decade now even though the case went to court when Britney opened up about it in 2008.

What is a testimony and what Britney has said in her’s in court appearance?

Testimony is basically a formal statement that is true when it is made in a court of law, a testimony can show that something else exists or is true.

Spears spoke to the court about her case last week in which she called her father and others who have managed her care “threatening” and “abusive”. Tamar Arminak, who worked on these types of conservatorship cases said “I’m not sure it’s going to sway the judge”.

The singer’s fans and other celebrities started speaking up for her which led to questioning America’s view on disability rights. One of the most startling details that came out was that she does not have the right to remove her Intrauterine Device (IUD). The 39-year-old singer was not even allowed to see her boyfriend and children, the situation is analogous to the experiences of people with disabilities as they are most likely to have their children taken away from them. As for Britney, she lost custody of her children in 2007. 

Furthermore, she also revealed that she was being forced to take lithium, a medication that made her feel “drunk” and even compared her situation to “sex trafficking.”

In the testimony, Britney detailed her past which immobilized her. “I am not happy, I can’t sleep. I’m so angry, it’s insane. And I’m depressed,” she added.  

What do America’s disability and reproductive rights have to do with the case of Britney’s spears?

According to Robyn M. Powell, a disability scholar and visiting Assistant Professor at Stetson University College of Law said  “what is happening to Britney Spears is undeniably tragic but not surprising for people with disabilities. America has a shameful history of denying reproductive freedom to people with disabilities, especially those who are also BIPOC or LGBTQ.”

According to some American activists said, “we need to ensure that the doctors and nurses have a basic understanding of how to treat patients with disabilities, particularly with sexual and reproductive health issues and services”.

Disabled people too often are stereotyped as needing special protection, including measures that curtail their ambitions for intimate relationships and family life which happened with Britney as well. It is not right to stereotype that being disabled means having no sexual or reproductive interests or being sexually inactive, celibate, or asexual but American law just presents it like this.

Again, according to professor Robyn M Powell, “several countries have had “eugenic laws” that restricted the reproductive rights of women with developmental disabilities in the past. In the U.S., a 1927 Supreme Court case, Buck V. Bell legalized the forced sterilization of more than 70,000 people with disabilities and has never been overturned. “Sterilization remains more common than we would like to admit, often done under the auspices that it is in the ‘best interest’ of people with disabilities” which can also be seen happening with the singer after she was labelled disabled.

Singer’s father has previously defended his role in court and claimed that he missed her and “was sorry for her” but the general public is definitely not believing anything he puts out there.

Currently, the singer is trying to remove her father and others from the conservatorship as she said that they are using and taking advantage of the empire she made and the hard work done by her. In the past 2019 and 2020, her testimony was denied and sealed by the court as she was allegedly not able to hire a lawyer because of restrictions due to her disability. 

Celebrities, her fans, and activists across the globe have also been calling for her to be freed from her conservatorship. 

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