Mum-of-three jailed for more than two years for taking abortion pills after legal limit

12 June 2023, 19:34 | Updated: 12 June 2023, 19:40

The woman received a 28-month sentence, 14 of which will be spent in custody with the remainder on licence
The woman received a 28-month sentence, 14 of which will be spent in custody with the remainder on licence. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A woman has been jailed for more than two years for taking abortion pills when she was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant, which is after the legal limit.

The mum-of-three was sent abortion pills after lying to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) about how far along in her pregnancy she was, Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard on Monday.

The prosecution accused the woman, who is not being named, 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".

The woman, 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.

The woman received a 28-month sentence, 14 of which will be spent in custody with the remainder on licence.

The sentencing has been subject to a wave of criticism, including Labour MP Stella Creasy, who told LBCNews 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.

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."

Leader of the Women's Equality Party fumes at the UK's 'archaic abortion laws'

The woman, 44, 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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The woman was initially charged with child destruction and pleaded not guilty.

She later pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion, which was accepted by the prosecution.

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 the woman, 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 the woman, 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."

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