UPDATE: After 13 years, Britney’s conservatorship finally ended in November 2021, restoring her right to make decisions about her own life. But there are still over 1 million people with disabilities living under some form of conservatorship or guardianship in the U.S. — people who deserve access to their civil liberties, too.
Conservatorships, which often strip people with disabilities of their civil liberties, have gained media attention through Britney Spears’ efforts to bring her own conservatorship to an end. July is Disability Pride Month, and though Spears’ conservatorship has been highly publicized, she is only one of the more than an estimated one million disabled Americans living under some form of conservatorship or guardianship.
Spears’ story has revealed to the public how restrictive conservatorships are. Under this repressive legal structure, people with disabilities, or people who are perceived to have disabilities, are stripped of their autonomy, losing the ability to spend their own money, choose their own medical care, or even choose who they spend time with.
Although conservatorships are often perceived as protective or neutral, largely because they are court sanctioned, they are reflective of a profound and pervasive paternalism towards people with disabilities.
During Spears’ harrowing 24-minute court statement calling for an end to her conservatorship in June, amid descriptions of being constantly surveilled and confined against her will, Spears also revealed that although she would like to have children, her conservators refuse to let her have her intrauterine device (IUD) removed. Spears’ experience is part of a long history of people with disabilities — most often people of color — being robbed of their reproductive freedom.
Conservatorships send the harmful message that it is appropriate to trample the rights of people with disabilities. Disabled people deserve autonomy and full access to education, homes, health care, jobs, families, voting, and civic engagement.
In this week’s episode of At Liberty, Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project, discusses the implications of conservatorships for Spears and many others.