LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A panel of Court of Appeal judges has halted a court-ordered abortion in the United Kingdom, overturning a decision made last Friday in a case involving a mentally disabled woman.
On Friday, Justice Nathalie Lieven ordered that a 22-week-pregnant mentally disabled woman be forced to have an abortion, despite the objections of the woman and the assurances of her family that they would care for the child.
The woman has not been identified, but her family is from Nigeria and she is said to have the mental age of a 6- to 9-year-old child. The family is Catholic.
Her doctors have argued that having an abortion is in the woman’s “best interest,” since they say it would be less traumatic than giving birth and having the child placed in foster care.
The woman’s mother, who is a midwife, has offered to care for her grandchild and says the doctors have “underestimated her [daughter’s] ability and understanding.”
In Britain, disagreements between medical personnel and the families of those assessed with not having an appropriate mental capacity often end up in court.
The three-judge appellate court panel overturned the ruling on Monday after the mother made a legal challenge, although their legal reasoning will not be made public until a later date.
Two British bishops – Bishop John Keenan of Paisley in Scotland and Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster in England – issued statements condemning the initial ruling by Lieven.
After the announcement of the successful appeal, the Diocese of Paisley posted a message on Facebook calling it “Brilliant news!”
Clare McCarthy of Right To Life UK said it was a “very welcome decision that will save the life of the unborn child and the mother from a forced late-term abortion and much undue distress.”
“However, the horrific original ruling should never have happened. Unfortunately, we fear that this is not a one-off case. We are calling on the Department of Health to urgently reveal how many women have been forced to have an abortion in the UK over the last 10 years and make it clear how they will ensure it will not happen again,” McCarthy said in a statement.
Liz Parsons, the head of advocacy of the British pro-life charity Life, said: “This could not be better news for all concerned.”
“There is no way such a judgement should ever have been made and had it gone ahead would have been a most grave violation of human rights. Three judges have now concluded that doctors must not carry out this abortion in a result that finally shows true compassion for all concerned,” she said.
“While we await the details of the verdict, we would like to reiterate our offer of support for this woman, her mum and extended family, as well as anyone else who might benefit from our services,” Parsons added.
Lord David Alton said the Appeal Court decision “restores my faith in our judicial system.”
“The implications of their decision should now be carefully considered by the Court of Protection,” he said, referring to the UK court that deals with people judged not to have the mental capacity to handle their own affairs.
“By supplanting the rights of the family, and the rights of a vulnerable pregnant woman, the Court of Protection went way beyond the rights of a British Court. In trampling on the foundational, paramount human right – the very right to life itself – the Court exceeded its authority and the Appeal Court is to be warmly congratulated for overturning it,” Alton said in a statement.
“There is an old saying that the person who saves a single life, saves the world. The saving of this single life should now open the eyes to the loss of so many others,” he said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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