Father loses fight to halt wife's abortion

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The Independent Online
A father has no legal right to prevent his wife from aborting their unborn child, a Scottish judge ruled yesterday in a landmark judgment.

The ruling from Lord Eassie provoked the condemnation of pro-life groups and Cardinal Thomas Winning, the leader of Scotland's 750,000 Roman Catholics, who recently mounted a campaign, including offers of financial support, to try to persuade women not have abortions.

But the decision confirms, as is the case in England and Wales,that a foetus has no legal rights. Nor do fathers or the courts have the power to override the opinions of doctors under the 1967 Abortion Act.

James Kelly, of Inverkeithing, Fife, went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to stop his estranged wife Lynne, a 21-year-old singer, from having an abortion and to seek custody of the baby and the couple's daughter.

Mr Kelly launched an immediate appeal, but Lord Eassie said it was clear that the law intended doctors to make the decision. Quoting from an earlier case, he said: "The great social responsibility is plainly placed by the law on the shoulders of the medical profession."

The judge added that the Abortion Act only required two doctors to form an opinion in good faith on the grounds for an abortion. The court's only role would be to investigate a doctor's good faith where doubt was cast upon it. But such a question had not arisen in this case.

In a 1987, an Oxford student failed in a High Court bid to stop his girlfriend, a fellow student, having an abortion, on the ground that a foetus has no legal rights.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said yesterday's ruling was a "travesty of justice".

John Smeaton, the organisation's national director, said: "Above all, the right which the law should uphold is the unborn baby's right to life."

Cardinal Winning said: "It is a sad day indeed. There is surely an extraordinary anomaly in the law when a father can be pursued by the Child Support Agency for maintenance of a child but has no say in protecting the child's life in the womb."

Cardinal Winning added that the case showed the inadequacy of the law in failing to safeguard any rights of the unborn child. "We have arrived at abortion on demand," he said. "Once again, it highlights the need for a complete review of the Abortion Act."