The President of the Family Division has ruled that an abortion is in the best interest of a 13 year old girl.
In Re X (Capacity to Consent to Termination), Sir James Munby found that the girl lacked the ability to make an informed decision about her pregnancy.
She had been described by a psychiatrist as “a very damaged and impaired young girl” who “did not have a full understanding of what the pregnancy would involve”.
A consulting psychologist put the girl’s IQ at 54, with her comprehension level being similar to that of a seven year old.
Sitting at the High Court in London, Sir James declared that in order for an abortion to be carried out, it would have to meet the criteria set out in the Abortion Act 1967.
Section 1 of the 1967 Act states that a pregnancy can only be terminated if doctors determine that continuing the pregnancy would present a greater risk of physical or mental harm to the mother than an abortion.
Sir James made his decision under the assumption that the criteria set out in Section 1 would be satisfied.
“If they are not, then that is that: the court cannot authorise, let alone direct, what, on this hypothesis, is unlawful.”
The girl, called ‘X’ in the judgment, had been “unambiguously” opposed to the idea of having the pregnancy terminated before the hearing began.
Sir James agreed with the submissions of several consulting doctors that, despite a termination being in her best interest, forcing her to go through the procedure would not be justified.
However, that ceased to be an issue:
“By the beginning of the hearing it appeared that X was wavering and by the end of the hearing the position was that X had been consistently expressing a wish to have a termination for the previous two days.”
With that in mind, the President was able to rule that an abortion should go ahead.
He also declared that a social worker explain to X that there would be “very little chance” she would keep the baby if she brings it to term, and that she is given a couple of days “to digest this information”.
Photo of the High Court by Phil Beard via Flickr