'Compassion, not punishment': 'Relief' as mother who took abortion pills after legal limit to be freed from jail

18 July 2023, 11:16 | Updated: 18 July 2023, 19:28

Carla Foster will be released from prison
Carla Foster will be released from prison. Picture: Facebook/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Supporters of a woman who was jailed for illegally obtaining abortion tablets to end her pregnancy during lockdown have voiced their "relief" after a court ordered her to be released from prison on appeal.

Carla Foster, 45, was handed a 28-month extended sentence after she admitted illegally procuring her own abortion when she was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant.

Abortions are generally only legal before 24 weeks and are carried out in clinics after 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Sentencing her last month, Mr Justice Pepperall said Foster would serve half her term in custody and the remainder on licence after her release.

But three judges at the Court of Appeal in London on Tuesday reduced her prison sentence to 14 months and agreed that it should be suspended.

Read More: 'Shame on her midwife!': Women outraged after mum-of-three jailed for taking abortion pills after legal limit

"This is a very sad case... It is a case that calls for compassion, not punishment," Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde and Mrs Justice Lambert, said.

Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "We echo the judges' statements that this is a case that calls for compassion, not punishment, and are delighted with the decision to release Carla Foster from prison.

"The Court of Appeal has today recognised that this cruel, antiquated law does not reflect the values of society today.

"Now is the time to reform abortion law so that no more women are unjustly criminalised for taking desperate actions at a desperate time in their lives.

"Two women accused of illegally ending their own pregnancies are currently awaiting trial.

"We urge Parliament to take action and decriminalise abortion as a matter of urgency so that no more women have to endure the threat of prosecution and imprisonment."

Foster appeared via videolink from Foston Hall prison for the hearing, wearing glasses and a dark blue top with flowers on the shoulders.

Carla Foster
Carla Foster. Picture: Facebook

Her barrister, Barry White, said there was a lack of "vital" reports into Foster's mental health at the time of the offence and that "the obvious impact of the pandemic added to Ms Foster's already anxious state of mind".

Labour MP Stella Creasy said on Twitter: "The relief that this woman can go home to be with her children is tempered by the knowledge there are more cases to come where women in England being prosecuted and investigated for having abortions under this archaic legislation. That's why we need decrim now."

The Court of Appeal was told that the prison in which Foster has spent 35 days has refused to allow her any form of communication with her three children, one of whom is autistic.

Mr White also said Foster had voluntarily brought her actions to the attention of the police, adding: "Had she not done that, it is highly unlikely that she would have ever been prosecuted."

Robert Price, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the original sentence was not "manifestly excessive".

Read More: 'No one has the right to judge you': Mum-of-three jailed for taking abortion pills after legal limit hits back

Ms Foster had been sent abortion pills after lying to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) about how far along in her pregnancy she was.

The mum-of-three pleaded guilty to section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion.

Speaking before her original sentencing, Ms Foster said defiantly that "no one has the right to judge you because no one knows what you've been through".

Ms Foster also posted a text image which read: "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."

Shelagh Fogarty believes the UK needs to 'overhaul' the current abortion law

The original sentencing was subject to a wave of criticism, including from a number of MPs.

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes arguing the case should spark a debate about a possible change in the law.

Ms Nokes said at the time: "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."

Mandu Reid from the Women's Equality Party told LBC's Tom Swarbrick at the time: "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.