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NHS forces mentally challenged Catholic woman to have an abortion

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If it were possible to localize all the pathologies undermining the West into a single incident, a court ruling handed down on Friday might serve as the one. A British judge has ordered a young Catholic woman with “moderately severe” learning disabilities to have a second-trimester abortion against her will, in a case filed by the publicly funded National Health Service.

The circumstances are horrific. The mother, who cannot be named, is in her twenties with a mental capacity comparable to a six-to-nine year old. She is 22 weeks pregnant and has said she wants to keep her child. The young woman’s social worker agrees giving birth would be best for her well-being. The victim’s mother, a former midwife from Nigeria who has religious objections to abortion, has offered to raise her grandchild. The child could also have been placed in foster care, and a growing number of experts see 22 weeks as a potentially new standard for fetal viability.

However, the government has other ideas. An undisclosed NHS Trust sued to force the woman to have an abortion, in violation of her faith, putatively because it is in her “best interests.”

At a time when the Church of England holds church services in Westminster Cathedral thanking God for the NHS, there is little doubt which god’s will would be done.

The woman “would suffer greater trauma from having a baby removed” from her care after birth, wrote Nathalie Lieven, a justice of the ironically named Court of Protection. “[I]t would at that stage be a real baby,” Lieven wrote, “a baby outside her body she can touch.” (For accuracy’s sake, the mother currently touches her baby so completely that she fully envelopes the child.) Without intervention, an abortion will take place just before the UK’s 24-week legal limit on terminations.

What is at stake is not merely the enormity of a compelled abortion, which a UK pro-life organization called “reminiscent of how people with mental health issues were treated in the 1930s of Nazi Germany.”

The ruling in this tragic case strings together a modern catena peccatis of statism.

The judge’s order transgresses against the right to life and the inviolable human dignity of all persons. It violates conscience and vitiates the ability of a vulnerable woman – an immigrant’s child and a likely sexual assault victim – to exercise her religious liberty. It substitutes the judgment of the State for that of the preexisting and superseding authority of parents and family members. It denies genuine health care. It compels taxpayers to pay for procedures many of them deem a mortal sin. And the decision comes mired in the stench of cronyism, as the judge channels public resources to her former industry.

Christian Concern said, “No such thing should take place under the NHS.” However, NHS is the plaintiff compelling the unwanted abortion. In a situation analogous to that of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, the government-run, single-payer health care system decreed a child’s life must be ended in violation of the parents’ wishes, despite readily available alternatives. An abortion would require the NHS to expend far fewer of its limited resources than a potentially complicated birth.

Roman Catholic Bishop John Sherrington said the abortion upsets the “delicate balance between the rights of the individual and the powers of the State.” Lieven defended her role in the decision, writing, “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 her ruling raises another concern: Lieven formerly worked as legal counsel for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which describes itself as “the leading provider of abortion services in the UK with over 40 abortion clinics and sexual health centres in England, Wales, and Scotland.”

“At the creation of [BPAS in 1967], women would still need to pay for their [abortion] themselves,” BPAS notes. “Today over 95% of the women we take care of have their treatment paid for by the NHS.”

And in some cases, women have their abortions compelled by the NHS, as well.

The ruling should be a wake-up call for Integralists and others who believe a national health care system would be “pro-life.” The same constellation of abuses cluster whenever the State acquires a monopoly over force and economic activity.

Update​​​​​​​As this article was being published on Monday, a three-judge panel of an appeals court overturned Lieven’s decision. Lord Justice McCombe, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Peter Jackson said they will provide their reasons at a later date. Curiously, the publicly funded BBC placed the words “forced abortion” in scare quotes in its coverage.

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.

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