Did a British judge compel a child to have an abortion?

Reader beware. A story that is too good to be true is often that, not true.

An article in the Huffington Post reporting that a British judge compelled a 13-year-old to undergo an abortion sparked outrage on pro-life blogs and news sites this week. Unfortunately the key claim of the story — what moved this from a tragedy to an outrage — was false.

The Huffington Post ran a story on June 9 entitled “High Court Orders 13-Year-Old Girl To Have Abortion.” This prompted sharp reactions from commentators, while LifeSiteNews.com — a conservative Christian advocacy site — ran a story entitled “UK judge orders 13-year-old to have abortion. This is medical rape.”

The lede in this advocacy piece stated:

This story is truly disturbing. According to the Huffington Post UK: “A ‘very damaged’ 13-year-old girl was ordered to have an abortion by Britain’s most senior family judge, it has been revealed.

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was impregnated by a 14-year-old boy and initially wanted to keep her baby.”

That’s right. This girl, because she was considered mentally incompetent, was forced — forced — to have her child dismembered, decapitated, and disemboweled by the medical establishment because one Sir James Munby decided that capital punishment was most appropriate for being the child of a someone he described as “very … impaired.”

Where does the error lay? Did the editorial writer at LifeSiteNews misconstrue the Huffington Post story? Here is the lede from the Huffington Post — what would you take this to mean?

A “very damaged” 13-year-old girl was ordered to have an abortion by Britain’s most senior family judge, it has been revealed.

However, other press reports of the incident did not say the judge compelled the girl to have an abortion. The Daily Mail reported the girl had at first declined to have an abortion, but then wanted to have an abortion.

The judge said evidence had been prepared on the basis that the teenager was opposed to a termination. But when the hearing began she was ‘wavering’ and by the end she had wanted a termination. He said the ‘preponderance of evidence” pointed to a termination being in the girl’s best interests and said he had, in any event, concluded that a termination was in her best interests.

The Huffington Post piece did hint at a change of mind.

But Sir James said the girl’s opposition to an abortion had wavered during the hearing. “It was clearly appropriate for me to supply the necessary consent to enable the termination to proceed,” he said.

But the story neglected to go further and report whether the abortion was voluntary or involuntary. Further confusion arises from the Huffington Post story due to its treatment of the views of an “expert.”

But an expert said allowing her to give birth might be the less-damaging course. “If the pregnancy were terminated I believe that this would cause considerable harm to this young girl, who would see it as an assault. “Continuing the pregnancy…may have a less detrimental effect on her given her current circumstances,” the expert said.

Who was this expert? What were their qualifications? Did they testify in court or did they respond to a question from the Huffington Post? We are not told. Nor do we have any context about the girl’s family life — is she in state care, in an institution, raised by a parent(s)?

In its analysis of the case, the Law & Religion UK blog noted the judge in the case did not and could not order an abortion. Citing a prior ruling the court held:

(There)is no question in this case, or indeed in any case, of a court, by order, requiring any doctor to perform an abortion or termination. An abortion will only happen in this case if, as s1 of the Abortion Act 1967 requires, two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. Further, it will only happen if a doctor or doctors, in the exercise of their own professional judgment, voluntarily decide to perform the abortion.

Thus it is for:

… the doctors to decide, not the court, and if the two doctors are not so satisfied, “the court cannot authorise, let alone direct, what, on this hypothesis, is unlawful.

However, if these conditions are met, then the role of the court is to supply, on behalf of the mother, the consent which, as in the case of any other medical or surgical procedure, is a pre-requisite to the lawful performance of the procedure.

The court further held the girls consent played a central role in the decision process.

A child or incapacitated adult may, in strict law, lack autonomy. But the court must surely attach very considerable weight indeed to the albeit qualified autonomy of a mother who in relation to a matter as personal, intimate and sensitive as pregnancy is expressing clear wishes and feelings, whichever way, as to whether or not she wants a termination. …

(It) would not be right to subject X to a termination unless she was both “compliant” and “accepting”. Both, in my judgment, are important. Only the most clear and present risk to the mother’s life or long-term health — neither even hinted at in the present case — could justify the use of restraint or physical force to compel compliance.

In sum: A 13-year-old girl was not ordered to have an abortion by the court. The court permitted her to have an abortion after having received assurances by two physicians that the medical-legal criteria for an abortion were present, and the girl had made an affirmative statement to the court that she wanted to have an abortion.

This is the story of a human tragedy. What it is not is a story of judicial evil or “medical rape.”

The lesson? When reading an advocacy site — left or right — always consider the source.

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