baby and mum's hand

Court of Appeal judgement reveals judge did not factor in disabled woman’s feelings in forced abortion case

12th Jul 2019 - Naomi Marsden

Last month, a judge in the Court of Protection ordered a forced abortion on a woman with a learning disability, who was 22 weeks pregnant.

Medics claimed it was in her ‘best interests’ to have a termination because going through with the birth, as well as potentially having to give up the baby, would be more detrimental to her mental health.

This was despite the fact that the woman, who is a Catholic, wanted to keep the baby, and her mother, a former midwife, had said she would look after the baby when it was born. Her social worker also disagreed with the termination.

Despite this, the termination was ordered even though the judge, Justice Nathalie Lieven, acknowledged that it was an ‘immense intrusion’ to order an abortion against a woman’s desires.

Judgement Overturned

Wonderfully this decision was then overturned at the last minute by three judges at the Court of Appeal, after the woman’s mother mounted a challenge. This happened just as the pre-operative stage of the abortion procedure was taking place.

The official judgement, released yesterday, showed that Justice Lieven’s ruling was overturned because she had failed to take into account the feelings of the woman herself, her mother, and her social worker.

Lady Justice King stated that "The judge placed emphasis on the fact that (the woman's) wishes were not clear and were not clearly expressed,"

"She was entitled to do that but the fact remains that (the woman's) feelings were, as for any person, learning disabled or not, uniquely her own and are not open to the same critique based upon cognitive or expressive ability.

"(The woman's) feelings were important and should have been factored into the balancing exercise."

“In the end, the evidence taken as a whole was simply not sufficient to justify the profound invasion of (the woman's) rights represented by the non-consensual termination of this advanced pregnancy."

A Worrying Trajectory

Although this judgement was mercifully overturned, it does indicate the existence of a worrying trajectory in our society where abortion is viewed as the only, necessary outcome.  

Looking at the judgement, the medical professionals looking after the woman appear to have given little consideration of the potentially traumatic effects of termination on the woman’s mental health. Instead it was continuing the pregnancy that appeared to them to entail the greater risks to her psychological wellbeing.

This is in keeping with the predominant perception in the medical profession and wider culture that abortion does not entail any mental health detriment. This is despite the fact that evidence suggests that there is no mental health benefit from having an abortion, and that it, in fact, entails an increased risk to a woman’s psychological health.  

Given that Justice Lieven is a well-known proponent of abortion and has previously represented BPAS, it seems that an ideological belief that abortion is a necessary therapeutic outcome almost won the day.

A wider problem

Whilst this is an extreme example of forced abortion, it’s important to remember that coercion plays a huge role in the numbers of women accessing abortion today. Around 1 in 7 women who have abortions are coerced into doing so, whether through abusive partners or family members pressuring them. Staff at abortion clinics are supposed to detect evidence of abuse, but it appears to often go undetected.  

Abortion is never compassionate, for either the baby or for the woman. We are heading in a very worrying direction indeed if we are starting to believe abortion is the most obvious, perhaps even more positive, outcome, rather than allowing the baby to live and a woman to be spared the grief of losing her child.

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