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Judges refuse to allow doctors to force an abortion on mentally ill woman

August 2019

A pregnant woman with a mental age of between 6 and 9 years old has been allowed to keep her baby after the Court of Appeal overturned a Court of Protection decision to abort the child.

The unnamed woman’s Catholic mother brought the legal challenge against doctors who attempted to force the termination in the 22nd week of pregnancy.

Supported by the Catholic Church and disability rights action groups, the grandmother-to-be achieved a legal victory after the Court of Appeal blocked the abortion.

John Sherrington, a bishop in the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, had called the original Court of Protection decision ‘sad and distressing’ and argued the abortion was infringing the mother’s human rights.

According to news reports, following the original Court of Protection decision, doctors had told the woman she would go to sleep and when she woke up the ‘baby would no longer be in her tummy but she would get a new doll’.

The NHS Trust responsible for the woman’s care had asked for the court’s permission to terminate the pregnancy, arguing there was a risk to the woman’s psychiatric health if the pregnancy continued, and claimed her behaviour could pose a risk to the baby.

Justice Nathalie Lieven, sitting in the Court of Protection, had ruled, ‘I am acutely conscious 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’.

In that original Court of Protection judgment, released on 5 July, Judge Lieven said she gave no thought to the baby’s rights as it was ‘not a physical presence’. She said it was right to act in the woman’s ‘best interests, not on society’s views of termination’.

But following a huge outcry, from disability rights and faith groups, as well as the grandmother’s legal challenge at the Court of Appeal, the woman will now be allowed to continue with the pregnancy, with her own mother’s full-time support in caring for the baby.

Earlier in July, platforms CitizenGO and Right to Life teamed up to create a petition demanding Judge Lieven to rectify her decision. According to a joint statement, the campaign gathered more than 130,000 signatures in less than 72 hours from countries as far afield as Croatia and Canada.

Katie Gollop QC, representing the woman, said evidence showed the woman was ‘highly adaptable’. The court also heard the circumstances of the conception were unclear and a police investigation was ongoing.