UK court authorizes forced abortion for disabled woman in new case

shutterstock 558149791 The Royal Courts of Justice on Fleet Street, London. Via Shutterstock

A court in the United Kingdom ruled last week that it is in the best interest of a pregnant woman with severe learning disabilities that she undergo an abortion. A British court made the same decision in a similar case earlier this year, though that decision was overturned after it was issued. 

The unidentified woman in this case is estimated to be 12 weeks pregnant. She, along with her NHS trust and local council, have not been identified by the court or in media reports, in order to protect her privacy.

The court's ruling was issued Friday, Oct. 11, after a hearing in the U.K.'s Court of Protection which handles cases brought concerning care and decision making for people judged not to be able to act for themselves. The NHS trust responsible for the woman's care petitioned the court for permission to carry out an abortion. In its petition, the trust argued that continuing her pregnancy would be harmful to the woman. 

Eloise Power, the lawyer representing the NHS trust, testified that the woman's doctors and caregivers support ending her pregnancy. 

The woman lives in the north of England and has spent most of her life in foster care. Her caretakers, who are described as "Christians and churchgoers," support the abortion, according to PA Media, a wire service in the UK. 

An additional 30 medical professionals, including doctors and social workers, who were consulted for this case also agreed that an abortion is in the woman's best interests, according to PA Media. 

Justice David Basil Williams wrote in his ruling that the abortion would be a "significant interference" in the woman's bodily autonomy, but also said he agreed it to be in her best interest, and that continuing the pregnancy could harm her mental and physical health. He also authorised medical staff to restrain the woman and administer a general anesthetic during the abortion if necessary

The Court of Protection has jurisdiction over cases involving Britons who are deemed to not possess the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. The pregnant woman is in her 20s, but functions intellectually with a severely diminished capacity, British media has reported. 

Police are investigating whether the woman's pregnancy was caused by an act of sexual assault. Because her medical caregivers and foster family are in favor of the abortion, no appeal of the decision is expected.

This case is similar to one that made headlines in June, when the Court of Protection ruled that an intellectually disabled woman should undergo an abortion at the 22nd week of pregnancy. That case sparked international outrage, as the woman and her mother were both opposed to abortion on religious grounds. 

The decision in that case was opposed by the woman's family and social workers and was overturned three days after it was issued.

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