UNITED KINGDOM – Judge ‘flabbergasted’ at prosecution of woman accused of using abortion pills

The case against a young woman accused of having an illegal abortion, who was due to face trial in the Oxford Crown Court (the type of court that deals with the most serious criminal offences), had her case dropped. Judge Ian Pringle (above) said he was “flabbergasted” it had been pursued in the first place. The 25-year-old, who had an emergency caesarean section last year at 31 weeks of pregnancy, was reported to the police when a clinician found two pills in her body (sic) believed to be abortion medication. She said she had been prescribed misoprostol by a doctor in Portugal, her home country, and had inserted the tablets (presumably in her vagina) accidentally, thinking they were anti-thrush medication. She must have gone into labour as she was rushed to surgery for an emergency c-section. The baby was delivered at 4lb 4oz and is now a toddler.

Even so, she was charged with “administering poison with intent to procure a miscarriage” a crime under the British Offences against the Person Act 1861. Prosecutors later told the Court that it was “not in the public interest for this case to proceed… because of the impact this could have on the child”, according to the Times report. The judge also said that pursuit of the case had been “misconceived” and that the trial would have been a waste of court time, with the “absence of any public interest… in pursuing this prosecution”.

Earlier in 2022, the Sunday Times apparently uncovered a number of cases in which women have been arrested, charged and in one instance imprisoned for having an abortion, including one woman who obtained abortion pills from an authorised provider. Campaigners and medical professionals are urging the DPP to issue guidance against similar prosecutions, and for Parliament to decriminalise abortion entirely.

According to a Sunday Times analysis of Home Office data, 11 people were reported to the police last year in England and Wales accused of illegally procuring an abortion. This was up from seven in 2020, eight the year before, and just two in 2018.

In 2023, yet another woman will appear in an English court, charged under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, which states that any person who “with intent destroys the life of a child capable of being born alive” (over 28 weeks of pregnancy) can be subjected to conviction and can face life in prison. This woman is said to have obtained pills from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service under a regulation that allows women up to ten weeks pregnant to receive abortion pills in the post to use at home after a remote consultation. The woman used the pills and apparently delivered a 28-week fetus and was reported to the police.

[Note: It is not clear whether the woman awaiting trial was aware of how pregnant she was or not. The source articles are not open access. No information is provided as to where and how these cases were ‘uncovered’, nor by whom, nor what took place, nor their outcomes. In addition, the question of who has been investigating, and reporting women who use abortion pills to the police in hopes of prosecuting them remains to be made public. Further information would be appreciated!]

SOURCE: The Times, by Hannah Al-Othman and Megan Agnew + PHOTO, 11 December 2022