Protecting human rights in childbirth

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High Court decision on mental capacity of pregnant women

Pregnant women with severe learning difficulties “may very well retain capacity to make deeply personal decisions about their own medical care”. A great decision from Mr Justice Hedley sitting in the Court of Protection.

The woman, who is unnamed for legal reasons, has very severe learning difficulties and is said to be in the bottom 1% of the population for cognitive ability. Her doctors approached the court to ask whether she had the mental capacity to decide whether to continue with her pregnancy. The judge made the very important legal point that those who lack the mental capacity to make decisions about key areas such as money and living arrangements may nonetheless be able to make deeply personal decisions about sex, relationships and giving birth. She is entitled to make her own decision about whether to have an abortion.

You can see a report of the judgment in the Independent.

Birthrights factsheet on consenting to treatment explains the law on mental capacity and pregnancy.