In a fast-moving story over the past few days, a baby’s life has hung in the balance, weighed on the scales of justice.
Less than a week ago, Mrs Justice Lieven had presided at a hearing in London at the Court of Protection. The Court deals with issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions. In this case, a woman with mental disabilities was 22 weeks pregnant. She wanted to have the baby, but Justice Lieven concluded that
an abortion was “in the woman’s best interests.”
The judge admitted that it was an “enormous” decision, and said she was “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 dismissed the woman’s stated wishes, saying: “I think she would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll.”
According to Justice Lieven, the mother “would suffer greater trauma from having a baby removed” to be adopted than from an abortion.
In contrast to this appalling verdict, it was moving to hear of the determined courage and dignity of the family caught in the crossfire of the legal arguments. Despite the difficulties of persevering, the family took on the secretive and all-powerful Leviathan that had determined that the death of an unborn child was required. The woman’s mother, a former midwife, took the case to the Court of Appeals, where on Monday three judges unanimously overruled the earlier decision.
Those judges, Lord Justice McCombe, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, have restored my faith in our judicial system. They said they would give reasons for their decision at a later date. For now, we must congratulate them for overturning the Court of Protection ruling.
However, the implications of their decision should now be carefully considered by those who arrogantly tried to supplant the rights of the family and the rights of a vulnerable pregnant woman – and sought to trample on the foundational, paramount human right, the very right to life itself.
If they had their way, the history books would have had to be rewritten: currently, they say that James Hanratty was the last person to be subjected to the death penalty and to be executed by the British state.
The truly chilling decision to end the life of a child, against the wishes of its mother and grandmother, and against the advice of a social worker, would have been a coercive abortion worthy of the brutality of the People’s Republic of China, where forced abortions are a regular practice.
If the decision had not been overturned, it would have represented a gross violation of human rights, and the tyrannical suppression of the rights of a family.
Despite the mother’s learning difficulties, the baby’s grandmother, a Nigerian and a Catholic, had told the Court of Protection that she was willing to bring up her grandchild.
It was a way forward supported by the girl’s social worker. And the mother, herself, has clearly said that she wants her child to be born. But an NHS Trust decided that they knew better and they went to court against the family.
Apart from the judge – whose previous advocacy and support for abortion and an extension of abortion laws is in the public realm – anonymity and secrecy stacked all of the cards against this family.
Why should the NHS Trust, a publicly funded body, be able to hide behind anonymity, and not have to justify itself and be answerable to Parliament for its actions?
This was compounded by the Kafkaesque, misnamed, Court of Protection, failing to protect the family and a baby of 22 weeks gestation while protecting the identity of those who wanted to end this baby’s life.
The Court’s decision – which it said was in the mother’s “best interests” – meant that she and her family were stripped of their rights and that a viable baby had to lose its life.
And what were the considerations taken into account in reaching this decision? Did the Court ask for evidence about the negative effects of abortion on women with mental health issues – especially when the woman categorically says that she does not want one? If not, far from protecting this vulnerable woman, the Court of Protection, was willing to expose her to further distress and harm.
A traumatic late-term abortion can hardly be construed as more “in the interests of the mother” than a well-managed child birth. Did the judge actually know what happens in a late abortion?
A group of Parliamentarians have recently been examining the likely suffering and pain experienced by the baby in abortions. We were struck that the aborted baby receives no such pain relief. In the United States, those executed by lethal injection are given anaesthesia, to reduce the pain caused by the potassium chloride used in their execution. There is no such mercy for Britain’s unborn children.
Meanwhile, the tiny child has no Court of Protection or NHS Trust to protect it. Who speaks in the Court as the amicus curiae of the child? What was said about the baby’s “best interests”, what consideration was given to the ability of this baby, at 22 weeks gestation, with the loving care of NHS paediatricians, to survive birth?
In addition to trampling on the rights of a family and the right to life, is there really no responsibility or duty to protect?
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all human beings have the right to life. It emphatically does not say that there is a right to abortion. Nor does it say that Courts have the right to impose one.
If human rights organisations like Amnesty International weren’t so busy trying to foist abortion laws on Northern Ireland surely they would have been campaigning for this child and its family. Amnesty’s founder, the redoubtable Peter Benenson, most certainly would have done so.
But the activists’ silence and the injustice represented by this lethal, tragic case, tells you all you need to know about the country we have become.
The outraged thousands who signed on-line petitions, contacted MPs, and stood by the family, in various ways, put the lobbyists for human rights to shame.
There is an old saying that the person who saves a single life saves the world. The saving of this single life has saved our judicial system from being brought into contempt. Perhaps this little child will one day open our eyes to the loss of so many others.
Lord Alton of Liverpool is an independent crossbench peer. Visit davidalton.net