Last week a UK court ordered that a mentally disbled women must be forced to have an abortion against her will. However, a few days later a Court of Appeal in London overturned the unjust decision.
The unidentified British woman is in her 20s and has the mental capacity of a 6- to 9-year-old child, according to court reports. She is currently 22 weeks pregnant and under the care of an NHS trust, part of the UK’s National Health Service. The circumstances of the pregnancy were unclear but are being investigated by local police.
Doctors at NHS trust petitioned the court to abort the woman’s pregnancy. According to the Catholic News Agency, the trust argued that due to her diminished mental capacity, the abortion would be less traumatic for the woman than giving birth, especially if the baby would then be placed in foster care. The woman’s mother, a Nigerian and former midwife, objected to the abortion citing her and her daughter’s Catholic faith. A social worker in charge of the women’s case also disagreed that it was in the best interest for her to have a forced abortion.
A debate about “best interest”
The judge in the case, Justice Nathalie Lieven, disagreed, saying she did not believe the young woman understood what it meant to have a baby. “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,” Justice Lieven said in her decision. But the judge said she had to act in the woman’s “best interests, not on society’s views of termination.”
In her ruling Lieven said, “[The pregnant woman’s] treating clinicians consider that on balance, a termination is in her best interests . . . In broad terms [the clinicians] believe that as a result of her learning disabilities, [the woman] would find labour very difficult to tolerate and the recovery from a Caesarean section very challenging. . . . [The clinicians] consider that [she] is likely to find the loss of a pregnancy easier to recover from than separation from the baby if he or she is taken into care.”
The attorney defending the woman said the judge had “no proper evidence” to show that allowing the pregnancy to continue would put the woman's life or long-term health at grave risk.
Justice Lieven issued her decision last Friday. On Monday, three appeal judges overruled that decision, and said they would give reasons for their decision at a later date.
A cause for concern in the UK—and in the US
Clare McCarthy, a spokesperson for Right To Life UK, praised the appeals court but warned there is still cause for concern.
“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,” she said. “However, the horrific original ruling should never have happened.”
“Unfortunately, we fear that this is not a one-off case, added McCarthy. “We are calling on the Department of Health to urgently reveal how many women have been forced to have an abortion in the UK over the last 10 years and make it clear how they will ensure it will not happen again.”
In his recent comments on this story, Southern Seminary president Albert Mohler explained why Americans should be concerned about a case from the UK.
“There are many Americans who would say, ‘This can't happen here,” says Mohler. “And, perhaps right now, it can't happen here, but that doesn't mean that it won't happen here. This appears to be the kind of news story that we would expect to be datelined from a context of a totalitarian regime, but it's not. It's coming from the United Kingdom, but that does not make this story less frightening, but rather more.”