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Appeal judges overturn abortion ruling

28 June 2019

A single judge in the Court of Protection had decided that an abortion was in the best interests of a woman who has the mental capacity of a six- to nine-year-old child


The Court of Protection in London

The Court of Protection in London

A THREE-JUDGE Court of Appeal in London has overturned the ruling of a single judge in the Court of Protection who decided that an abortion was in the best interests of a woman who has the mental capacity of a six- to nine-year-old child.

The woman, who is in her twenties, is 22 weeks pregnant. The NHS trust that is caring for her applied to the Court of Protection for permission to terminate the pregnancy. An obstetrician and two psychiatrists said that there would be a risk to the woman’s psychiatric health if the pregnancy continued, and that her behaviour could pose a risk to a baby. The woman and her mother opposed the abortion.

Mrs Justice Lieven, who heard the case in the Court of Protection, said that she was not sure that the woman understood what having a baby meant, and “would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll”. The judge accepted that it was “an immense intrusion” to order a woman to have a termination if she did not want one, but decided that, although it was “heartbreaking”, it was in the woman’s best interests that she should have the abortion.

The woman’s mother, who had offered to care for the child, applied to the Court of Appeal for the ruling to be overturned. It was argued that Mrs Justice Lieven’s judgment was not in the woman’s best interests.

Lord Justice McCombe, Lady Justice King, and Lord Justice Jackson, who heard the appeal, overturned the earlier ruling. The Court of Appeal, however, has not yet given reasons for its decision.

Forcing a woman to have an abortion raises important legal issues about human rights and the best interests of the individual, particularly those who lack mental capacity. The matter also touches on religious and ethical questions.

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