UK judge forcing mentally disabled mother to have abortion without her consent

A pro-life campaigner holds up a model of a 12-week-old embryo during a protest outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast October 18, 2012.
A pro-life campaigner holds up a model of a 12-week-old embryo during a protest outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast October 18, 2012. | Reuters/Cathal McNaughto

A judge has ruled that doctors will be allowed to perform a surgical abortion on a woman with learning difficulties without her consent and even have the right to “restrain the woman,” if necessary.

On Oct. 11, the Court of Protection in London, which hears cases on issues relating to people who are considered to lack the mental capability to make decisions for themselves, heard the case of an unidentified woman in her 20s who reportedly has the “mental capacity of a toddler” and is 12 weeks pregnant, The Guardian reports

At 12 weeks gestation, a baby is fully formed, according to the CDC's Fetal Development Chart.

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Mr. Justice Williams ordered a surgical abortion to be performed on the woman later this week after bosses at an NHS hospital trust urged the court to authorize the termination. Williams ruled that medics can physically restrain the woman, if necessary, to administer a general anesthetic and perform the abortion.

Williams said authorizing the termination of a pregnancy was a “significant interference” in a woman’s autonomy, but said the woman’s best interests were the “lodestar” of his decision. Evidence showed that the pregnancy was causing her to behave in a “somewhat more aggressive fashion,” he said. 

The judge said the woman might have been raped or been made pregnant by a man who also had learning disabilities and a lack of understanding. Police are investigating whether the woman’s pregnancy was caused by an act of sexual assault. 

A lawyer representing the trust said the woman, who lives in the north of England and cannot be identified, had lived with foster carers for most of her life. While the woman's foster parents were “Christians and churchgoers,” they believe an abortion is in the woman’s best interests, the lawyer said. 

An additional 30 medical professionals, including doctors and social workers, who were consulted for this case, also agreed that an abortion is in the woman’s best interests, according to The Guardian. 

However, the decision was criticized by pro-life groups, including John Deighan, deputy chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who called it an “outrage” that “should shock every right-thinking person.”

“It is a level of cruelty and barbarity reminiscent of how people with mental health issues were treated in the 1930s of Nazi Germany. To force abortion on any person is abhorrent and to do so in the name of medicine calls into question the structures of law and justice in our society,” he said, LifeSite News reported.

A similar case occurred in June, when the same court ordered an abortion for a mentally disabled woman against her and her mother’s wishes, The New York Times reported. The unidentified woman, who lived in London, was in her 20s and had the mental capacity of a 6- to 9-year-old child. She was 22 weeks pregnant at the time of the abortion.

Justice Nathalie Lieven, who handed down the decision at the Court of Protection, said at the time: “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.”

But the judge said she had to act in the woman’s “best interests, not on society’s views of termination.”

The British charity Life, which says its mission is to create a society that “has the utmost respect for all human life from fertilization,” said in a Facebook post that the decision was “truly horrendous.” Commentators on the site described it as “terrible” and “devastating.”

“That is wrong on every level; doesn’t mean baby will have learning difficulties,” another person wrote on the Facebook page of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

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