British Appeal Court Overturns Judge’s Orders Forcing 22-Week Pregnant Disabled Woman to Have an Abortion Against Her Faith

By Nancy Flory Published on June 24, 2019

A British judge Friday ordered a mentally disabled woman to have an abortion, even though she doesn’t want one and it would go against her faith. An appeals court Monday overturned that ruling.  

Justice Nathalie Lieven said that she was aware that ordering the abortion is an “immense intrusion.” However, she said that the abortion would be in the best interest of the young woman. “I am acutely conscious of the fact that for the State to order a woman to have a termination where it appears that she doesn’t want it is an immense intrusion,” said Lieven. “I have to operate in [her] best interests, not on society’s views of termination.”

The woman, a Roman Catholic, is in the care of an NHS trust, part of the National Health Service, reported Fox News. Although she’s in her 20s, she is mentally the age of a 6 to 9 year old. Her mother has argued against the abortion, saying she would take care of her grandchild. The judge ruled that the woman’s mother would not be able to care for her daughter and a baby.

Not in Her Best Interest

Barrister John McKendrick QC is leading the woman’s mother’s legal team. He argued that termination was not in the woman’s best interest. “It is accepted that [the woman] lacks capacity to conduct these proceedings and to make a decision in respect of whether or not to consent to a termination and associated ancillary treatment. That being said, [the woman’s mother] considers that the applicant has underestimated [her] ability and understanding, and that more weight should be place[d] on her wishes and feelings.”

The social worker who works with the young woman also said the pregnancy should not be terminated. However, Lieven said the young woman didn’t have the mental capacity to make her own decisions. She added that the woman didn’t know what having a baby entailed. “I think she would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll.”

Adoption didn’t seem to be an option for Lieven. She stated that the woman “would suffer greater trauma from having a baby removed [from her care]” because “it would at that stage be a real baby.”

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McKendrick said that the judge had “no proper evidence” to show that continuing the pregnancy would put the woman’s health or life at risk. “The applicants have failed to carry out a proper best interests analysis. Their evidence is premised on a narrow clinical view. The application must be dismissed.”

Bishop John Keenan of the Diocese of Paisley in Scotland asked people to sign an online petition started by Right To Life UK June 22. The petition pleaded with U.K. Health and Social Care Secretary Matthew Hancock to intervene. The petition received over 75,000 signatures by Monday.

After the original ruling, Keenan said that Lieven’s decision introduced “a dangerous new development in the overreach of the power of the state over its citizens.” He added that the decision not just for the woman and her unborn child, but “everyone who believes in choice in this country, in the interests of everyone who believes in the prerogatives and the rights of citizens over the state.”

Ruling Overturned

The English Court of Appeal Monday overturned the original ruling, noting that the circumstances of the case were “unique,” reported the Catholic News Agency. The Court agreed to provide a full explanation at a later date.

Clare McCarthy, a spokesperson for Right To Life UK was happy with the appeals court ruling. “This is a very welcome decision that will save the life of the unborn child and the mother from a forced late-term abortion and much undue distress.” However, she added that the original “horrific” ruling should never have happened. “Unfortunately, we fear that this is not a one-off case.”

Right To Life UK is calling for the Department of Health to reveal how many women have been forced to have an abortion over the last decade. The nonprofit also wants to make sure that it won’t happen again.

Bishop John Sherrington is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Westminster. “In a free society like ours there is a delicate balance between the rights of the individual and the powers of the state,” he said. “This case, for which all information is not available, raises serious questions about the meaning of ‘best interests’ when a patient lacks mental capacity and is subject to the court’s decision against her will.”

UK law allows abortions up to 24 weeks. 

Police are investigating the circumstances of how the disabled woman became pregnant.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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