Bipolar woman wins High Court battle for right to have abortion
The 37-year-old said she no longer trusted her husband and didn’t want to be a single mother
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Tuesday 21 May 2013
A pregnant woman with severe mental health problems is expected to have an abortion after a High Court judge ruled that she was capable of making the decision.
The 37-year-old, who is almost 23 weeks pregnant and has bipolar disorder, said she would kill herself and her unborn daughter if he did not allow her to go ahead with a termination.
Her family and doctors said she was not in a fit mental state to decide to end the pregnancy, pointing out that before she was ill she wanted the child.
But Mr Justice Holman ruled in the Court of Protection that she "does have capacity to make a decision to request the consent to end her current pregnancy".
The woman, known only as "SB", is currently staying in a secure mental health facility, but appeared in court to make a direct plea to the judge. Her identity and the name of the health authority cannot be reported.
Justice Holman disagreed with the assessment of her doctors, mother and husband that SB was not capable of deciding and said it would be "a total affront" to her autonomy to say she could not.
He added: "The patient perfectly understands what's involved in a termination... she perfectly understands the finality of the event."
As he closed the proceedings, the judge reminded the woman that she would still make the final decision about the abortion. "Don't forget you can change your mind," he said, "You can make these decisions."
Her evidence in court, in front of journalists, was a rare occurrence for the Court of Protection, where patients do not ordinarily get a chance to speak on their own behalf. She appeared lucid and calm, only occasionally interrupting proceedings to disagree with witnesses.
When asked what she would do if the doctors forced her to carry the baby to term, she said: "I would seek to kill myself and the baby."
She believes she no longer has the support of her husband and that she is not well enough to bring up a child. The urgency in the case was due to the fact that SB is rapidly approaching the 24-week deadline for carrying out an abortion.
The woman, who was in work before having a mental-health relapse late last year, said she could not cope with bringing up a child. She told the judge: "With the situation I'm in, the idea of me having a baby is just crazy."
She has been sectioned several times over the last six years and treated for bipolar disorder and drug-induced schizophrenia. She has continued to use cannabis heavily while pregnant, including at the secure mental health facility where she is currently being held.
SB, who was visibly pregnant, pleaded with the judge: "I don't want to be a single mum, I don't want to share a baby with [my husband] and I think I'd be better off getting rid of the baby."
SB no longer trusts her mother or husband. She said she had initially been "more into" the idea of having a child than her husband but that she no longer wanted it because she could not cope and did not think she had his support.
Her family and doctors point out that the timing of this change of heart coincides with her stopping her prescribed medication, which she did to protect the unborn child.
But SB said that she "didn't really want to marry" her husband in the first place and that it "never really was a love relationship". She had married him, she said, partly because "he was undocumented and had no right to be in the country".
SB claims he threatened her with a knife, though her husband and other expert witnesses say it was the other way around. It was this incident which led to her being sectioned. Her doctors say she has assaulted her mother once and her husband several times.
SB also said she thought her husband was going to take the baby girl abroad, that he believes in female genital mutilation and that if their daughter was not a virgin before she married, she should be killed.
Her mother said that when she was ill, SB often became convinced that those close to her were persecuting her.
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