09:16, June 24 49 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-24 09:16:09
Catholic church hits out at court over abortion ruling

The Catholic church has criticised a court order under which a woman with a learning disability will have an abortion against her wishes.

The court of protection in London decided that an abortion was in the best interests of the woman, who is in her 20s, and is 22 weeks pregnant. She has the mental capacity of a six- to nine-year-old child.

Justice Nathalie Lieven described her decision as “heartbreaking”, saying: “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.”

But, she added, she had to act in the woman’s “best interests, not on society’s views of termination”.

The NHS trust that is caring for the woman had sought the court’s permission for doctors to terminate the pregnancy.

Both the woman and her mother were opposed to the abortion, and the woman’s mother had offered to care for the child. A social worker who works with the woman said the pregnancy should continue.

The court was told the woman had a “moderately severe” learning disorder and a mood disorder.

The judge said she was not sure the woman understood what having a baby meant. “I think she would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll,” she said.

The woman may suffer more if the baby was born and then fostered or adopted than if the abortion was carried out, the judge said. She “would suffer greater trauma from having a baby removed. It would at that stage be a real baby,” she added.

The judge also suggested that the woman’s mother, believed to be a former midwife from Nigeria, may return to her home country at some point.

The court decision was “sad and distressing”, John Sherrington, a bishop in the Catholic diocese of Westminster, said on Monday.

“Forcing a woman to have an abortion against her will, and that of her close family, infringes her human rights, not to mention the right of her unborn child to life in a family that has committed to caring for this child. In a free society like ours there is a delicate balance between the rights of the individual and the powers of the state.”

He added: “This case, for which all the information is not available, raises serious questions about the meaning of ‘best interests’ when a patient lacks mental capacity and is subject to the court’s decision against her will.”

The judge was told that the circumstances of the conception were unclear and a police investigation was ongoing.

Under Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, abortions can be performed up to the 24th week of pregnancy.



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