British court says abortion can be performed on pregnant woman with learning disabilities

(Photo: Reuters)

A British judge has given the go ahead to doctors to perform an abortion on a 22 week pregnant woman with learning difficulties. 

The petition was brought by an NHS trust that cannot be named for legal reasons.  

The pregnant woman, who also cannot be named, is understood to be in her twenties and was described by the trust's barrister as having a "moderately severe" learning disorder and a mood disorder. 

The woman is cared for by her mother, a Catholic and former midwife who said she would also take care of the baby.

Both she and the woman's social worker oppose an abortion, the Press Association reports.

Acting for the woman's mother, barrister John McKendrick QC, said that a termination was not in the pregnant woman's best interests and that there was "no proper evidence" to suggest that allowing the pregnancy would be damaging to her life or health.

"It is accepted that [she] 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," he said.

"That being said, [her mother] considers that the applicant has underestimated [her] ability and understanding, and that more weight should be place on her wishes and feelings."

Doctors argued that an abortion was in the best interests of the pregnant woman because of her learning disabilities.

In a written case outline, the trust's barrister, Fiona Paterson, said: "[The woman's] treating clinicians consider that on balance, a termination is in her best interests.

"In broad terms [they] believe that as a result of her learning disabilities, [she] would find labour very difficult to tolerate and the recovery from a Caesarean section very challenging.

"[They] 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.

"They also consider that [she] is at increased risk of psychosis if the pregnancy continues."

The petition was considered by Justice Nathalie Lieven in the Court of Protection on Friday.  

In her ruling, the judge said: "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 [...] I have to operate in [her] best interests, not on society's views of termination." 

The case has been condemned by pro-life groups.  The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said it was a "horrific abuse of power by the medical profession". 

SPUC's deputy chief executive John Deighan said: "This is an outrage which 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 and in the complete defiance of the religious and cultural values of the mother concerned calls into question the structures of law and justice in our society."

Christian Concern said: "A forced abortion is barbaric and morally unacceptable in 21st century Britain. No such thing should take place under the NHS. What will the government do to protect the rights of the mother, her family and her unborn child?"