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Family of mother jailed for taking abortion pills after legal limit are 'angry and embarrassed'
14 June 2023, 10:31 | Updated: 14 June 2023, 11:42
The family of a woman who was jailed for taking abortion pills after the legal cut off are "angry" that she has been sent to prison.
Mum-of-three Carla Foster pleaded guilty to section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion.
She had been sent abortion pills after lying to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) about how far along in her pregnancy she was.
Foster was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant. A full term is about 40 weeks. Abortions are generally only legal before 24 weeks and are carried out in clinics after 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Foster was given a 28-month sentence on Monday, 14 of which will be spent in custody with the remainder on licence.
A family friend said the family were "broken and struggling to come to terms with what’s happened".
"They need some time together to process it all and can’t speak about it at the moment," the friend added.
"On one hand they are very angry that Carla has been sent to prison because whatever wrong she might have done, she didn’t deserve that," the friend told MailOnline.
"She’s hardly a dangerous criminal, is she? And on the other hand, they feel very embarrassed because of the details that have come out about her personal life."
The friend added: ‘It’s not the sort of thing any father wants to see being published in the newspapers about his daughter.
"Carla’s dad and the rest of the family have had a terrible year. Last year their mum died and now this has happened. It’s a very painful and devastating time for the family so they just want to have their privacy and be left alone."
Foster is said to have been sleeping with two men, and was unsure who was the father of the foetus she terminated. She was in "emotional turmoil" over her situation.
On the eve of her sentencing, she appeared defiant about her crime. She posted a text image on Facebook: "No one has the right to judge you because no one knows what you've been through. They may have heard stories, but they didn't feel what you felt."
Ms Foster also posted a text image on Sunday evening, saying: "Life has knocked me down a few times, it showed me things I never wanted to see. I experienced sadness and failures. But one thing for sure, I always get up."
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The sentencing has been subject to a wave of criticism, with Conservative MP Caroline Nokes arguing the case should spark a debate about a possible change in the law.
Ms Nokes said: "This is not something that has been debated in any great detail for many years now.
"And cases like this, although tragic and fortunately very rare, do throw into stark relief that we are reliant on legislation that is very, very out of date."
Downing Street said there were no plans for a change to abortion laws.
Meanwhile, Mandu Reid from the Women's Equality Party told LBC's Tom Swarbrick: "I think what this does is it shines a spotlight on how problematic it is that abortion as a medical procedure is subject to criminal law in this way.
"I think all medical procedures run the risk of going wrong, but I can't think of any other case where the patient faces criminalisation or jail."
"What it does is it makes really the case very strongly that in this country we need to move abortion out of the criminal statutes."
The prosecution accused Ms Foster of making a number of searches online between February and May 2020, including "how to have an abortion without going to the doctor" and "how to lose a baby at six months".
Ms Foster, who had three sons before becoming pregnant again in 2019, did not see a doctor about her pregnancy because she was "embarrassed" and was unaware about how far along she was, the court was told.
Labour MP Stella Creasy told LBC there are concerns that the ruling could be the start of an attempt to roll back a woman's right to choose in the UK.
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Ms Foster spoke to a nurse practitioner at BPAS, an abortion care service, on May 6 2020 and, based on her answers to questions about her pregnancy, it was determined she was only around seven weeks pregnant.
She was later sent abortion pills in the post.
After having taken the pills later, a 999 call was made at 6.39pm saying the woman was in labour.
Her child was born during the course of the phone call, prosecutors told the court.
The baby was not breathing and despite resuscitation attempts by paramedics, who arrived at the scene at about 7pm, she was pronounced dead at hospital around 45 minutes later.
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Ms Foster was initially charged with child destruction and pleaded not guilty.
The maximum sentence is life imprisonment.
Prosecuting, barrister Mr Robert Price said: "She lied to BPAS about how pregnant she was so they sent the tablets to her. She said she had not seen a doctor about her pregnancy because she was embarrassed.
"While the baby was not full term, she was approaching that stage of development. Multiple and prolonged internet searches showed a level of planning.
"The taking of the drugs was a planned and deliberate act in which her intention could only have been to procure an abortion."
Defending Ms Foster, Barry White said Covid lockdowns had changed the way healthcare and advice services were operating to minimise face-to-face contact.
He told the court: "The restrictions placed on services to advise women may explain why there were so many internet searches for information on behalf of the defendant.
"We can never really know or imagine the turmoil she would have been experiencing at the time.
"The defendant may well have made use of services had they been available at the time. This will haunt her forever."
Mr Justice Pepperall acknowledged it is an emotive case and said it was made more "tragic" because the woman did not plead guilty earlier, adding that he may have been able to consider suspending the jail sentence if she had.
He said Ms Foster, who was given a 28-month extended sentence, will serve 14 months in custody and the remainder on licence after her release.
He added: "This case concerns one woman's tragic and unlawful decision to obtain a very late abortion.
"The balance struck by the law between a woman's reproductive rights and the rights of her unborn foetus is an emotive and often controversial issue. That is, however, a matter for Parliament and not for the courts."
Asked if Rishi Sunak is confident that criminalising abortion in some circumstances remains the right approach, his spokesman said: "Our laws as they stand balance a woman's right to access safe and legal abortions with the rights of an unborn child.
"I'm not aware of any plans to address that approach."