About a week ago, an article on Life News described a law case in England in which a senior judge “ordered” a 13 year-old mentally disabled girl to have an abortion “against her wishes.” Naturally there was considerable uproar. What is England coming to, if she can and will allow her judges to “force” a girl to have an abortion? Thankfully, Life News misreported and exaggerated. The basic facts were correct: an anonymous 13 year-old girl with an IQ of 54 and the mental capabilities of a 7 year-old was impregnated by a 14 year-old boy. Social Services brought the case before Sir James Munby, President of the High Court’s Family Division, when the girl was 14 weeks pregnant.
It is at that point that Life News’s accuracy stops. Contrary to what Life News reported, the girl was neither “forced” nor “ordered” to have the pregnancy terminated. As Law and Religion UK said in their summary of the case, Sir James simply provided the legal permission necessary for the abortion to take place, in accordance with the United Kingdom’s Abortion Act 1967. As they said, “[T]he 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.” It is true that when the case began the girl was set against an abortion, but by the end of the case she was asking to have one.
However, there is a point that no publication seems to have picked up on. In the course of the hearing, Sir James said that “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.” Law and Religion rightly interprets his words as further evidence that Sir James did not force the girl to have the abortion done, but his words are actually very disturbing. Sir James has just said that he believes that forced abortion is sometimes justified: “[T]he most clear and present risk […] could justify the use of restraint or physical force to compel compliance.”
It turns out that this is neither his first nor his last time expressing frightening views on birth control. London’s newspaper The Telegraph ran a story about Sir James and his stance on giving contraception to “problem parents,” parents who have a dozen or so of their children taken away by social services. But Sir James does not mention providing contraception to save the children who would be born and then taken way. Instead, he says that “[t]he savings if you can avoid care proceedings are enormous.” He is concerned for the financial state of the government, and apparently thinks that it is not worth risking for children’s lives.
An article in Britain’s Daily Mail, published half a year before the 13 year-old girl’s case was heard, sheds more light on Sir James’ philosophy. In a speech to the Law Society’s family section at their first annual conference, Sir James said, “All are entitled to respect, so long as they are ‘legally and socially acceptable’ and not ‘immoral or socially obnoxious’ or ‘pernicious.’” In other words, only some people deserve respect. But not everyone.
What makes a person legally acceptable? Presumably their legality as a citizen. What makes someone socially acceptable? Actions and decisions made according to accepted social standards. This would mean that illegal aliens, drinkers, drug users, fans of extremely loud music, psychopaths, hedonists, people with criminal histories, and “problem parents” are not acceptable and, according to Sir James, are therefore not entitled to respect. I have no doubt that everyone knows at least one person with at least one of those qualities. Does that person not deserve respect? Don’t you continue to give them respect because they are still a person, and not simply a series of mistakes?
Sir James seems to think that a person should only receive respect based on their worth and quality as a person. If someone is somewhat less than desirable socially, morally, or legally, then they do not deserve respect. Only people who are good, admirable, useful people should be respected.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has an entire article on the respect of the human person. As it says, “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority. […] If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects.” That last part sounds like what Sir James said about giving contraception to “problem parents” and forcing a mother to have an abortion. And as someone who very consciously only respects certain people, why should he not support forced birth control?
Yet Sir James’ self-described dislike of immoral people does not correspond with something the same Daily Mail article reported. Sir James said in a speech in London that “Happily for us, the days are past when the business of judges was the enforcement of morals or religious beliefs,” and that it is “Victorian” for judges to rule in favor of “virtue and morality” and against “vice and immorality.” Apparently the questions of morals and vices, their qualifiers, and their consequences should be left to the people. But only until something goes wrong and the courts have to deal with the effects.