A woman with a severe learning disability who gave birth after a suspected rape should be fitted with a contraceptive patch against the wishes of her mother, the high court has ruled.
The 21-year-old woman, known in court as V, has an unspecified but severe learning disability. Her mother, referred to in court as W, argued against contraception, saying increased protective measures would be enough.
But a senior judge has ruled that the mother’s own health issues meant she was unable to give her daughter the necessary protection to prevent another assault.
“I find that there is a real chance that Mrs W’s focus on her daughter’s safety and wellbeing has been, and may yet be, unavoidably diverted by her own health needs or dramas,” said Mr Justice Cobb. “She told me that she has a lot of physical health problems, that she takes 13 tablets a day, including antidepressants.
“It is believed that Miss V was assaulted when Mrs W was away from the home overnight in hospital,” he added. “Lapses of the plan have occurred when she has been absent from the home; it was notable that Mrs W was unable to attend court for the judgment, as a result of an unexpected health issue requiring urgent hospital treatment.”
V conceived her child in late 2015, in circumstances which the judge said “in all probability amounted to rape”. The perpetrator of the sexual assault, thought to be a family friend who has since returned to his home abroad, remains unknown. In 2016, she gave birth to a baby boy who is now in foster care.
V’s local hospital trust and the disability team at her local authority both wanted the young woman to get a contraceptive patch. Cobb agreed that it was in her “best interests” that a patch be administered for a trial period of six months, after which he would review the case.
V, who was born abroad, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy as well as learning difficulties. She has a mental age of about five. She can only speak of a few words of her native language and knows even fewer English words.
Her condition dates back to a road accident at the age of three, in which she sustained brain damage. She had no education in her native country but some specialist schooling after the family’s arrival in England.
Cobb said: “For all her life she has been socially and emotionally extremely vulnerable but is, paradoxically, very sociable and likes to go out to the park; she is also described as capable of being ‘overfamiliar’ with adults, as she was with one of the assessing psychiatrists undertaking an assessment.”
He added: “The underlying vulnerability of the plan is compounded by the fact Miss V shows limited recognition of danger, and no understanding of the fact that she needs to be accompanied when out in the community or the reasons why this may be necessary.”
V’s pregnancy was discovered at 28 weeks when she went to the GP. Neither she nor her mother knew she was pregnant before that point. The baby was born by caesarean section.
Cobb said: “Miss V was wholly bewildered by the experiences of pregnancy and confinement, and immensely distressed when her baby was removed from her care, pursuant to emergency orders.”
The judge said V was traumatised by the experience and showed clear signs of distress for some time afterwards.