ENGLAND – Outrage at jail sentence for 44-year-old woman with 3 children who took abortion pills later than UK legal limit

She ended her pregnancy during the first Covid pandemic lockdown in May 2020, when abortion services were limited.

Prosecutors accused her of knowingly misleading the British Pregnancy Advisory Service by saying she was below the 10-week cut-off, when she believed she was about 28 weeks pregnant. Doctors later concluded the fetus was 32-34 weeks’ gestation at the time of the termination. Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks on a range of grounds in the UK but home use of abortion pills is alowed only up to 10 weeks, and after that must be under clinic supervision.

She was charged and pleaded guilty in March 2023 under the 1861 Offences against the Person Act, under which all abortions are illegal. She will serve half her 28-month sentence in jail and the rest under licence. The media did not report what would happen to her three children while she was in prison.

The judge admitted the woman felt “very deep and genuine remorse” and was racked with guilt and plagued by nightmares over her actions, but he was still punitive. He said: “In my judgment your culpability was high … because you knew full well your pregnancy was beyond the limit of 24 weeks, and you deliberately lied to gain access to telemedical services…. I accept that you feel very deep and genuine remorse for your actions…. I also accept that you had a very deep emotional attachment to your unborn child and that you are plagued by nightmares and flashbacks to seeing your dead child’s face.” He added that if she had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, at the magistrates court, the custodial sentence could have been suspended.

The number of women and girls facing police investigations for abortion and the threat of imprisonment has risen in Great Britain over the past three years, and other women have been tried and imprisoned as well, including one for eight years. More trials are said to be in the pipeline as the anti-abortion stance of the current rightwing government continues to show its face.

The 1861 Offences against the Person Act made all abortions illegal, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Many abortion rights advocates are say it is obscene that it is still being used today to criminalise the tiny number of women who find no help before 24 weeks.

The defence barrister, Barry White, argued that lockdown and minimising face-to-face clinic appointments had changed access to healthcare during the pandemic, and so she had to search for information online. He argued that she needed “family and support”, not a jail term.

There was a petition and a large demonstration (photo above) protesting the judgment last weekend.

Chiara Capraro, Women’s Human Rights Programme Director, Amnesty International UK, said: “It is shocking – and quite frankly terrifying – that in 2023 a woman in the UK has been sentenced to jail because of a law dating back to 1861. Access to abortion is essential healthcare and should be managed as such. This is a tremendously sad story and underscores the desperate need for legal reform in relation to reproductive health. Four years ago, Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to decriminalise abortion. It is high time that the rest of the UK does the same to guarantee the protection of women’s fundamental right to health.”

SOURCES: Guardian, 12 June 2023 ; inews, by Connie Dimsdale, 12 June 2023 + PHOTO: Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency ; BBC News, by Riyah Collins & PA Media, 12 June 2023 ; Amnesty International UK, Press release, 12 June 2023