“I want to have the real deal. I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” 39-year-old pop legend Britney Spears told a Los Angeles judge on Wednesday.
In an emotional, 23-minute plea to L.A. Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny, Spears went on to detail exactly how the conditions of her conservatorship are standing in the way of her modest goals, referring specifically to her desire to have her intrauterine device, or IUD, a form of long-term birth control, removed. Spears said her guardians oppose the decision.
“I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby,” Spears said on Wednesday. “I have an I[U]D inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the I[U]D out so I could 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.”
Under California law, someone in Spears’ position would not automatically be barred from marrying or making her own medical decisions; rather, there would have to be an explicit court order to that effect — an order that, in Spears’ case, does not appear to have been made.
The fact that Spears told the court she believes she’s not allowed to marry or remove her IUD raises serious questions about the advice she is receiving from her court-appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, who was appointed to her case in 2008, shortly after her well-publicized mental breakdown. Ingham is well known for his work on other high-profile conservatorship cases, including those of billionaire Sumner Redstone and American Top 40 host Casey Kasem.
Since that year, Spears has been living under a conservatorship, a legal arrangement designed to help elderly or disabled individuals manage their financial or personal matters when a court deems them unable to function on their own. Speaking publicly about the arrangement for the first time on Wednesday, Spears said her conservators have veto power over virtually every decision she makes, from refinishing her kitchen cabinets to going on vacation to driving to a friend’s house.
But Spears’ assertion that she’s been prevented from re-marrying or having more children — the singer shares two sons, ages 14 and 15, with her ex-husband, Kevin Federline — is particularly disturbing.
“The handbook for conservators in California, it’s absolutely explicit that, unless the court order granting the conservatorship says that you don’t have a right to marry, you have a right to marry — even if you’re conserved,” says Leslie Francis, a disability rights lawyer and professor at the University of Utah, who has written extensively on the rights of the conserved to make reproductive decisions.
That Spears says she believes she can’t get married not only raises questions about the efficacy of her legal representation, it also casts a troubling light on the comments of at least one judge who has presided over the case. According to a 2014 court transcript obtained by the New York Times, Ingham previously raised Spears’ concern that the conservatorship prevented her from getting married and having children. At the time, Judge Reva G. Goetz reportedly replied, “I don’t recall that we made any orders about the right to marry, but you may not want to tell her that.” (“Somehow that did not come up in the conversation,” Ingham told the judge.)
Adam Streisand — a lawyer Spears attempted to retain in 2008, until Goetz ruled the singer “lacked the capacity” to hire her own attorney and appointed Ingham instead — has followed the case closely. Speaking about typical conservatorship arrangements, he tells Rolling Stone, “Unless you can prove that [a person] is literally incapable of communicating with or understanding her doctors, and she cannot support any rational thought about her medical care, she’s entitled to make her own medical care decisions, even if she’s in a conservatorship.” In Streisand’s opinion, Spears appears to meet those criteria just based on her statements in court this week. “Britney blew it out of the water,” he says of the singer’s clear articulation of her desires.
In a motion filed in March of this year to remove Spears’ father as conservator of her person — Jamie Spears remains co-conservator of the singer’s estate — Ingham cited a 2014 order that ostensibly determined Spears had an “incapacity to consent to any form of medical treatment.”
However, according to notes made by the judge in probate court records in April, not only does there appear to be no record of such an order on the date Ingham cited, no capacity declaration had ever been filed in this case, and “previous letters for conservatorship of the person… do not reflect that the Court made an order that the conservatee lacks medical capacity.” In other words, contrary to Spears’ lawyer’s statements in court, Spears appears to have been legally allowed to make her own medical decisions for the last 13 years. (Ingham did not respond to requests for comment from Rolling Stone.)
“It’s very hard to judge without a lot more information, what, if any, problems Britney has or may have had,” Streisand says. “But what’s clear to us now is that she’s never had an advocate.”
Pointing to Spears’ comments on Tuesday that she “didn’t know” she could petition to end the conservatorship, and Ingham’s remarks at a hearing in October likening Spears to a comatose patient, Streisand believes Ingham’s conduct is indefensible: “The only one who’s been comatose over the last 13 years is her lawyer, OK? He’s either comatose or corrupt or both.”
“Her lawyer, who’s made millions of dollars from being Britney’s lawyer in conservatorship, who’s ethically required to file a petition to terminate her conservatorship at any moment that Britney says, ‘I want this over,’ and in 13 years he’s never done it. Ask yourself why,” Striesand says. (According to reporting from the New York Times, between his appointment in 2008 and 2019, the last year when information was available, Ingham had been paid nearly $3 million for his work on Spears’ behalf.)
“You can give your client advice, but if your client says ‘I want this over,’ then you have one job and only one job: You do everything within your power to terminate the conservatorship,” Streisand says. “And he’s never filed a petition [in] 13 years to seek to terminate the conservatorship. […] Instead it seems like he’s just manipulated her into believing that she has no right to know anything, no right to hear anything, and no right to say anything.”
Spears herself told the judge on Wednesday, “I haven’t really had the opportunity, by my own self, to actually handpick my own lawyer by myself. And I would like to be able to do that.” After Spears statement, Ingham said that he would step aside if asked.
Tragically for Spears — who spoke openly and enthusiastically about her desire to be a mother not only recently but also early in her career, only to have custody of her two sons taken away from her when they were still toddlers — this question of control over her body has lingered well into her childbearing years.
Francis, the disability rights lawyer, likened Spears’ situation to the once-widespread practice of sterilizing mentally ill women. “We don’t sterilize people anymore. But, I mean, she’s 39 years old — she’s got a biological clock going tick, tick. One way to think about this is: [The conservatorship] is, in effect, making it impossible for her to reproduce.”