The High Court in London has ruled against a woman with Down’s syndrome who sought to appeal an earlier decision denying her access to abortion services. The woman, known as ‘A’ for legal reasons, was represented by the charity Justice for Health and argued that she should be allowed access to abortion services despite not having capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. However, after hearing both sides of the argument, Mr Justice Nathalie Lieven rejected A’s claim
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In her ruling, Lieven summarised the position of both A and her lawyers: “[A] argues that she is being discriminated against as a result of her disability in being refused an abortion when she would have been able to terminate her pregnancy if she did not have Down’s Syndrome. The NHS Trust argues, and I accept, that this is a case about A’s best interests and not about discrimination”.
The ruling was met with disappointment from the disability rights community, who had been hoping for a precedent-setting judgement that would allow those with learning difficulties or disabilities to access abortion services despite lacking capacity.
However, there has been some comfort in the fact that Lieven acknowledged the need to consider such cases on an individual basis rather than treating them as blanket decisions based on ability alone: “A must be allowed to have her autonomy over her body…and ultimately decide what will happen within it.”
Ultimately, although A lost her legal battle this time, the judgement may have opened the door for future cases to be decided more individually. This is an important step forward in protecting the rights of individuals with learning difficulties or disabilities and ensuring they are not unfairly discriminated against when accessing healthcare services.
This ruling proves that although society has come some way in understanding disability and its implications, there is still much work to be done to ensure people with learning difficulties or disabilities are treated fairly, and their rights are fully respected.
What are your thoughts on this ruling? Do you think individuals with learning difficulties or disabilities should be allowed access to abortion services despite not having capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005? Let us know in the comments below.
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