A British judge has authorized doctors to perform an abortion on a pregnant Catholic woman with developmental disabilities and a mood disorder, despite the objections of the woman’s mother and the woman herself. The woman is 22 weeks pregnant.
“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,” said Justice Nathalie Lieven in her ruling in the Court of Protection, June 21.
“I have to operate in [her] best interests, not on society's views of termination,” Lieven explained, arguing that her decision is in the best interest of the woman.
The Court of Protection handles cases involving individuals judged to lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.
The woman, who cannot been publicly identified, has been described as “in her twenties,” and is under the care of an NHS trust, part of the UK’s National Health Service.
Doctors at the trust wished to abort her pregnancy and 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 made clear to doctors and the court that she would assume care of her grandchild.
The woman is believed to have the mental capacity of a grade school-age child. She is reportedly Catholic, and her mother is Nigerian.
It is unknown if the pregnancy was conceived consensually, and police are investigating the circumstances of conception.
The woman’s mother, reported to be a former midwife, registered her absolute opposition to the abortion citing the Catholic faith of herself and her daughter. A social worker who cares for the woman also disagreed that she should be forced to have an abortion.
The judge said she did not believe the woman understood what it meant to have a baby.
“I think she would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll,” Lieven said.
Lieven also said she did not believe the woman's mother, who already helps care for her daughter, would be able to offer care for a grandchild at the same time.
Allowing the child to be born and then removed from the woman’s home and placed into foster care or adoption would be against the woman’s own interests, the judge concluded.
“I think [the woman] would suffer greater trauma from having a baby removed [from her care],” Lieven said, because “it would at that stage be a real baby.”
Lieven clarified that the pregnancy “although real to [the woman], doesn’t have a baby outside her body she can touch.”
As a lawyer, Lieven has appeared in court before in cases concerning abortion. In 2011, while representing the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, an abortion provider, she argued that British women should be permitted to medically abort their pregnancies at their own homes instead of in a hospital.
Five years later, Lieven argued in court that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were a violation of the United Kingdom’s Human Rights Act.
In 2017, she said that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were akin to torture and were discriminatory.
Unrestricted abortion is legal in the UK until 24 weeks of pregnancy, after which doctors must certify that the abortion is in the medical interests of the mother.
NHS statistics show babies born at 24 weeks have a 50% chance of survival on average, though the rate depends on the NHS trust providing care. Babies born in a University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust hospital in London at 23 weeks of gestation have a 70% chance of survival.