Mother jailed for taking abortion pills after legal limiton June 12, 2023 at 6:52 pm

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Carla Foster, 44, pleaded guilty to procuring drugs to induce an abortion at 32-34 weeks.

packages of Mifepristone tablets, also known as the abortion pillImage source, Getty Images

A mother-of-three has been jailed for more than two years for inducing an abortion after the legal limit.

Carla Foster, 44, received the medication following a remote consultation where she was not honest about how far along her pregnancy was.

The “pills by post” scheme, introduced in lockdown, allows pregnancies up to 10 weeks to be terminated at home.

However, Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard the woman was between 32-34 weeks pregnant when she took them.

Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. However, after 10 weeks the procedure is carried out in a clinic.

Prosecutors argued Foster had provided false information knowing she was over the time limit and had made online searches which they said indicated “careful planning”.

The court heard between February and May 2020 she had searched “how to hide a pregnancy bump”, “how to have an abortion without going to the doctor” and “how to lose a baby at six months”.

Based on the information she provided the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), she was sent the tablets because it was estimated she was seven weeks pregnant.

Woman alone in bedroom

Image source, Getty Images

Her defence argued that lockdown and minimising face-to-face appointments had changed access to healthcare and so instead she had to search for information online.

“The defendant may well have made use of services had they been available at the time,” said her barrister Barry White. “This will haunt her forever.”

On 11 May 2020, having taken the abortion pills, an emergency call was made at 18:39 BST saying she was in labour.

The baby was born not breathing during the phonecall and was confirmed dead about 45 minutes later.

A post-mortem examination recorded the baby girl’s cause of death as stillbirth and maternal use of abortion drugs and she was estimated to be between 32 and 34 weeks’ gestation.

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Foster, from Staffordshire, already had three sons before she became pregnant again in 2019.

The court heard she had moved back in with her estranged partner at the start of lockdown while carrying another man’s baby.

The judge accepted she was “in emotional turmoil” as she sought to hide the pregnancy.

Foster was initially charged with child destruction, which she denied.

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.

Leniency letter ‘not appropriate’

Sentencing, judge Mr Justice Edward Pepperall said it was a “tragic” case, adding that if she had pleaded guilty earlier he may have been able to consider suspending her jail sentence.

He said the defendant was “wracked by guilt” and had suffered depression and said she was a good mother to three children, one of whom has special needs, who would suffer from her imprisonment.

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

Ahead of Monday’s hearing, a letter co-signed by a number of women’s health organisations was sent to the court calling for a non-custodial sentence.

However, the judge said it was “not appropriate” and that his duty was “to apply the law as provided by Parliament”.

He told the defendant the letter’s authors were “concerned that your imprisonment might deter other women from accessing telemedical abortion services and other late-gestation women from seeking medical care or from being open and honest with medical professionals”.

But he said it also “has the capacity to be seen as special pleading by those who favour wider access to abortions and is, in my judgment, just as inappropriate as it would be for a judge to receive a letter from one of the groups campaigning for more restrictive laws”.

‘Archaic law’

The sentencing has sparked outcry among women’s rights organisations and campaigners.

BPAS said it was “shocked and appalled” by the woman’s sentence which they said was based on an “archaic law”.

“No woman can ever go through this again,” said its chief executive, Clare Murphy.

“Over the last three years, there has been an increase in the numbers of women and girls facing the trauma of lengthy police investigations and threatened with up to life imprisonment under our archaic abortion law,” she said.

“Vulnerable women in the most incredibly difficult of circumstances deserve more from our legal system.”

She said MPs must do more to offer protection so “no more women in these desperate circumstances are threatened with prison again”.

Stella Creasy

Image source, Getty Images

Meanwhile, Labour MP Stella Creasy called for “urgent reform”.

“The average prison sentence for a violent offence in England is 18 months,” she said in a tweet.

“A woman who had an abortion without following correct procedures just got 28 months under an 1868 act – we need urgent reform to make safe access for all women in England, Scotland and Wales a human right.”

The Crown Prosecution Service said: “These exceptionally rare cases are complex and traumatic.

“Our prosecutors have a duty to ensure that laws set by Parliament are properly considered and applied when making difficult charging decisions.”

When asked whether the prime minister was confident criminalising abortion in some circumstances was the right approach, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said the current laws struck a balance.

“Our laws as they stand balance a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortions with the rights of an unborn child,” he said.

“I’m not aware of any plans to address that approach.”

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