There was tentative anticipation surrounding Britney Spears’ address to an LA court during a hearing on Wednesday on the future of the conservatorship that has governed her life for 13 years.
Would she affirm the theories of the #FreeBritney movement, which alleges she is being held against her will? Or would it be a disappointing procedural affair of little substance?
Even the highest of expectations must have fallen short of what was to come. In an emotional, frustrated, 25-minute monologue, the 39-year-old singer called on the court to end the “abusive” conservatorship, and said those responsible for enforcing it, including her father, Jamie Spears, “should be in jail”.
The conservatorship was instituted in 2008 after Spears experienced a period of mental ill health. Lawyers for Jamie Spears have claimed he saved her life by placing her under the arrangement, which is typically used to protect the interests of mentally infirm people who are unable to advocate in their own best interest.
But #FreeBritney supporters, along with legal advocates and members of Congress, have questioned the suitability of the arrangement in Spears’ case, noting that her subsequent years of work at a high level, including several Las Vegas residencies, did not indicate its necessity.
Spears’ most shocking allegation was that her conservators had prevented her from removing her IUD (intrauterine device) in order to have a baby, and from marrying her boyfriend of five years, Sam Asghari, an actor. “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,” she told the court by phone.
Spears has two sons with her ex-husband Kevin Federline – 15-year-old Sean Preston and 14-year-old Jayden James.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s president and CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, released a statement in support of Spears’ reproductive rights.
“It is incredibly distressing to hear the trauma that Britney Spears has been through – including the appalling news that she has not been able to remove her own IUD,” McGill Johnson said.
“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. Every person should have the ability to make their own decisions about their bodies and exercise bodily autonomy.”
Spears further alleged she had no control over her healthcare, and that doctors changed her medication to the mood stabiliser lithium after she said she wanted to end her Las Vegas residency.
She said she was forced into a rehab facility after objecting during a rehearsal, and that she was forced to perform against her will when she was unwell with the flu and a high temperature.
“It was very threatening and scary,” she said. “The only similar thing to this is called sex trafficking.”
She added: “This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good. I deserve to have a life … I’m great at what I do. All I want is to own my money … [and] share my story to the world. I want to be able to be heard.”
A lawyer for Jamie Spears read a statement in court. “He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain. Mr Spears loves his daughter and he misses her very much,” it said.
The response to Spears’ testimony was explosive. Twitter said more than 1m tweets were posted about Spears in 24 hours. Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott and Brandy were among the celebrities to express their support for the singer.
Spears’ ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, who said in February he was “deeply sorry” for times in his life after their split where his actions had “contributed” to her vilification by the media, tweeted: “After what we saw today, we should all be supporting Britney at this time. Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was … what’s happening to her is just not right.”
The actor Rose McGowan, who was integral to exposing allegations against Harvey Weinstein, directed a message to Spears in a video.
“I know the cost of control and you’ve been controlled since you were 0. Fight on, there is freedom on the other side,” she said.
“I pray this judge gives you your life back and I am brutally angry that it has to be that way, that someone has to rule for you to get your life back.”
The US pop star Halsey tweeted: “Bless Britney and I hope with my whole heart she is awarded freedom from this abusive system. She deserves it more than anything. I admire her courage speaking up for herself today.
“Additionally, fuck anyone who thinks they have the authority as an institution or individual to control a person’s reproductive health.”
The British singer Rebecca Ferguson, who has pressed the UK government to introduce an ombudsman for musician welfare, tweeted: “Placed on drugs and forced to work? Is this not slavery/trafficking? It goes against basic human rights! Nobody deserves this! Entertainers are not there to be abused by anybody!”
Even Piers Morgandecried her situation. “It almost defies belief that any woman in America, the world’s great superpower and supposedly ‘land of the free’, should be subjected to such appalling treatment,” he wrote in a column for the Daily Mail.
“It was stunning to hear the brutal reality from Britney’s own mouth, in her own powerful, eloquent, often rapid-fire words. It was like she couldn’t wait to finally have her say, and who could blame her for the obvious frustration and anger?”
Megan Radford, a founder of the #FreeBritney movement, told the BBC: “Everything she said was absolutely heartbreaking and it was actually even worse than I really thought it was.”
Spears previously petitioned for her father to be replaced as co-conservator by an acting conservator, Jodi Montgomery, a California-licensed professional fiduciary trained in social work.
But in court she said: “Even Jodi is starting to kind of take it too far with me. They have me going to therapy twice a week and a psychiatrist … I’ve never in the past had to see a therapist more than once a week. It takes too much out of me going to this man I don’t know.”
The judge Brenda Penny thanked Spears for what she described as her “courageous” testimony. The Associated Press reports that a long legal process is likely before any decision is made on terminating the conservatorship.