Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 18:08 GMT


GP sued for refusing abortion

The case is being heard at the High Court

A woman is suing the GP who refused to refer her for abortion for negligence and the cost of bringing up her son, who was subsequently born brain damaged.

Michele Johnston, now 33, of Corby, Northamptonshire, is suing Dr Sheila Matthews over the birth of her son Sam, born prematurely in April 1989 suffering from a severe form of cerebral palsy.

Mrs Johnston, who has since married, claims that Dr Matthews told her she would never be able to get an abortion for her unwanted pregnancy.

She claims that the GP wrongly told her she was too late for an abortion at 14-and-a-half weeks and that she did not meet the legal criteria for a termination - which requires that the risk to the woman's mental health from continuing the pregnancy is greater than if it was ended.

Religious beliefs

Dr Matthews, who denies negligence, told the court that while she held strong Christian beliefs, her religious objections to termination did not cloud her professional duty

She said in evidence: "I believed that termination was wrong - it was part of my Christian beliefs.

"I have never found it an easy task to discuss termination with individuals but I think I would not be fulfilling my duty to them if I didn't set aside my personal principles and talk to them about the situation they are in and the options that they have."

She said she had always tried to be "as level and non-judgmental as possible".

"I very much appreciate that many people do not share my views."

She had only ever directly referred one patient - a 13-year-old girl - for an abortion, as it was her practice to ask a patient set on termination to see another doctor at the surgery.

Proper candidate for abortion

Mrs Johnston's counsel, James Badenoch QC, has told Mr Justice Alliott in London that Mrs Johnston, at the time of the pregnancy, was "by all the relevant criteria an eminently proper candidate for a lawful abortion".

The 23-year-old was newly divorced, bulimic, had recently cut her wrists in a half-hearted suicide attempt, and was planning to go to university when she became pregnant through a casual "hedonistic" relationship.

Mr Badenoch said that because of the advice given by the GP, at her Corby practice, the pregnancy continued and Mrs Johnston, after suffering a major haemorrhage, gave birth to a baby with catastrophic brain damage.

Dr Matthews said that she had no recollection of her conversations with Mrs Johnston, although she had notes of their meetings, and recalled her distress.

She was aware of the suicide attempt but not the bulimia.

She would not have said that it was too late for an abortion - as it was not - and would not have said that no-one would be prepared to recommend an abortion, as that was not the case.

She would have said that there were many reasons to consider other alternatives, such as adoption.

"I am likely to have pointed out that most girls present earlier than 14-and-a-half weeks, and to wonder whether she had been indecisive."

It was not her view that Mrs Johnston was qualified for a termination under the Abortion Act.

"I felt that she was of an age when she could understand and cope with the pregnancy and I was not aware of any problems with her physical health.

"Girls faced with unplanned pregnancy often think of termination as the first option and not to think through how they would cope if they did keep the baby."

The hearing continues.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

16 Feb 99 | Health
Abortions continue to rise

28 Jan 99 | Health
Abortion 'part of birth control'

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99