Britney Spears Needs Legal Support, Not Pontification; If “Reproductive Coercion” is Unconstitutional, Where’s the Help She Needs?
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Britney Spears’ Testimony
WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 29, 2021) – Probably the most shocking part of Britney Spears’ testimony was that her conservator prevents her from having an IUD removed so she can have a child. In quotations appearing in the major media, many law professors opined that such a denial of reproductive freedom [which some called “reproductive coercion”] was unconstitutional or otherwise illegal, “shocking,” “outrageous,” and much more.
The Guttmacher Institute was outraged, stating that “forcing someone to be on birth control against their will is a violation of basic human rights and bodily autonomy, just as forcing someone to become or stay pregnant against their will would be.”
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California called the pop icon’s account of forced contraception “extremely troubling.”
The Director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law opined that her situation “illustrates an abusive system aided and abetted by the law.”
But as Spears’ problems illustrate – especially with her former attorney claiming that she was “deprived of her rights” in a “terrible miscarriage of justice” – she needs far more than pontifications and pious pronouncements.
What she very clearly needs is legal assistance, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, not only to protect her own reproductive rights, but also the rights of many other women whose similar constitutional rights are in danger of being violated, as least according to some experts.
Whatever legal representation she’s now getting obviously hasn’t been sufficient to persuade the judge that her fundamental constitutional rights are being violated, says Banzhaf, who notes that many lawyers are already involved with her and her conservativeship, but may not be doing enough to protect her interests. Indeed, Spears claimed that she was not even told that she had a legal right to petition to have the conservativeship terminated.
Providing Legal Assistance In A Case
The traditional way for law professors to provide legal assistance in a case, when a legal right they deem important is at stake, is to file a “friend of the court” [amicus] brief, said Banzhaf, who has filed several himself at his own expense.
Such briefs can be very effective, especially in courts below the U.S. Supreme Court, because they not only provide information and legal arguments the court might otherwise not be exposed to, but also because their filings also emphasize just how important the legal proceeding – and the underlying legal issues – are.
Although Britney Spears’ court records are largely sealed, it appears, from the absence of any mention in the media, that none of the law professors who profess to be so concerned about this violation of a reproductive right – which the U.S. Supreme Court has determined is a fundamental constitutional right – has filed such a brief to assist Spears in defending this right in her case, and in creating a precedent able to help many other women likely to face similar deprivations.
Since they are all apparently on an extended summer break from having to teach classes, these law professors should have more than sufficient time to take this tiny step, the law professor points out.
It is even more startling that apparently none of the organizations which have pontificated on behalf of Spears’ reproductive rights have provided any legal support or other assistance to her in defending them.
This is especially surprising because they obviously have resources far in excess of those within the reach of most individual law professors; ironically, they seemingly raise money by representing how they protect the rights which they say are so important.
But this is an extraordinary legal case, so something more than a routine amicus brief may be required, suggests Banzhaf, who is known for novel successful law suits.
These include obtaining over $12 million from McDonald’s for failing to disclose information about its french fries, and against Spiro Agnew to recover all the money he took in bribes.
Banzhaf’s also been called “a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” “The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry,” “a King of Class Action Lawsuits,” and an “Entrepreneur of Litigation, [and] a Trial Lawyer’s Trial Lawyer.”
Concerns About Spears’ Reproductive Rights
The professor notes that, in the past, lawyers seriously concerned about various issues have filed law suits on behalf of a fetus (sometimes called an “unborn child”), an ape and other animals, precious dinosaur bones, and even a tree; all of which were obviously incapable to bringing legal actions on their own behalf.
Britney Spears – although obviously very different and much more in need of legal assistance – likewise apparently finds herself incapable of protecting her own legal interests, and so she might be eligible to have a law suit filed on her behalf by those seriously concerned about her reproductive rights.
Indeed, as an example of this principle, Banzhaf orchestrated a successful law suit on behalf of the State of Maryland which, while obviously fully capable of bringing its own law suits, refused to do so to recover the money its former governor, Spiro T. Agnew, had taken in bribes.
In another he filed a legal action on behalf of a federal jury, and in a third a legal action on behalf of an abstract but important interest in justice. Indeed, one of his complaints recently triggered a criminal investigation of former president Donald Trump.
A third legal approach which might be considered in this extraordinary situation would be a legal action in the nature of habeas corpus on behalf of Spears.
Professor Banzhaf explains that a traditional habeas corpus action was used to test whether or not a confinement or other restriction on liberty was constitutional or otherwise lawful; in this case to determine if Spears should be completely free of any conservatorship.
However, resourceful lawyers willing to think outside the box have successfully brought actions in the nature of habeas corpus to legally challenge the conditions of confinement, rather than whether the confinement itself is legal. Thus prisoners, who do not contest that they were sentenced legally, can in some situations challenge the conditions of their confinement.
Here, even if Britney Spears requires some form of guardianship protection (e.g., to safeguard her from completely squandering her vast assets, or from taking medication which could well end her life), preventing her from having a child (which she can clearly afford to care for, and to have more-than-adequate assistance in caring for if necessary) may have crossed the line and become illegal, suggests Banzhaf.
In this regard, he notes, any governmental restriction on a fundamental right can be constitutional only if those who defend it can prove that it serves a compelling governmental interest, and is tailored as narrowly as possible to protect that interest – conditions which would be very difficult for her father to establish with regard to Spears’ interest in having another child.
Unlike the more typical case of reproductive rights – the right of a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy – there is no competing interest, such as any alleged right of an embryo to be born, which would have to be balanced against an adult woman’s right to decide whether or not to reproduce – except perhaps in the extreme and rare situations of someone with such a severe mental disability that they cannot rationally make that decision.
Thus, concludes Banzhaf, while a judge may permit Britney Spears’ IUD to be removed simply as a result of her own testimony, it would be much better if those truly concerned about reproductive rights provided some legal assistance; both to protect Spears, as well as to prevent a legal precedent which could threaten the legal rights of many other women in the future.