Legal delay may halt abortion plan

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Lawyers representing a father who is trying to prevent his estranged wife from aborting their baby have been told that the House of Lords cannot hear his case until next Monday - when she will be more than 15 weeks pregnant.

The delay, due to the Whit holidays, could be significant because Lynne Kelly revealed yesterday that she may go through with the birth if the case continues to drag on.

James Kelly, 28, Edinburgh, has lost at every step on the way to the Lords, but an order is still in place preventing Mrs Kelly from having a termination. After Mr Kelly lost his cast at the Court of Appeal, it was assumed that the Lords would sit soon afterwards. But Wendy Sheehan, Mr Kelly's solicitor, said yesterday: "The House of Lords, both the clerks and the court itself, is closed this week. But the clerk's office is prepared to open this Wednesday at 10am for us to lodge the petition.

"The date that has been pencilled in to hear the case is Monday next week. It has yet to be confirmed. They simply could not convene five law lords and clerks and court staff before Monday."

The delay could have an influence over 21-year-old Mrs Kelly's decision to abort or proceed with the pregnancy. She told the Daily Record newspaper yesterday: "The way things are just now I will carry on with the abortion. But if the matter is delayed further by the courts, then I may have to reconsider."

Smoking a cigarette, she added: "When I first went to see the doctors, they told me I had got there at the right time. But more than a week has now passed, so that starts to leave questions in my mind. If the case goes to the House of Lords, who knows when it will be heard? That could make the difference of me having to have a labour-induced termination - and that is something I would have very strong doubts about."

David Paintin, a retired gynaecologist and chairman of the Birth Control Trust, said the delay of an extra week did not represent a significant increase in the complications. He said the type of abortion favoured by Mrs Kelly could be safely performed up to 18 weeks.

"Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. From an ethical and medical point of view, there is no problem up until that point. But, for the woman, it becomes more prolonged and uncomfortable. At 14 weeks there is twice the risk of complications than at, say six or eight weeks. But this risk is still only two per thousand ... I would be more concerned about the protracted uncertainty and anxiety."

Mrs Kelly was in hiding last night with representatives of the Daily Record and The Mirror, but her uncle, Willie Falconer, said that the family had been shocked by revelations in court that Mr Kelly was convicted of assaulting her last year.

"How would you feel if it were your sister or your niece that was getting beaten up?" he said. Mr Falconer said the family had been angered by Mr Kelly's appearances on television. "What's been going on is, this guy's been saying, when he went along to the TV studios, `I hope Lynne is getting counselling and I hope the family are taking care of her'. That's what he should have been doing. No woman is going to walk out if her marriage is OK." He challenged Mr Kelly publicly to deny having assaulted his wife, despite evidence given in court that he was convicted on 15 May 1996.

Letters, page 15