Mother’s jail sentence sparks controversy in abortion pill case

Content warning: this article contains mentions of abortion.

Carla Foster, 44, a mother of three, has been sentenced to more than two years for inducing an abortion at home after the legal limit. 

Whilst abortion is legal in the UK for up to 24 weeks, after 10 weeks, the procedure has to be carried out in a clinic. Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard that Carla was between 32-34 weeks pregnant when she took the pills that would subsequently induce her abortion. 

Carla used the “pills by post” scheme to have abortion pills delivered to her home address following a telephone consultation where she lied about how far along her pregnancy was. Based on the information she provided the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), they estimated she was seven weeks pregnant.  

The “pills by post” scheme was introduced in lockdown amongst tightening restrictions to enable more women to be able to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks at home.

On 11 May 2020, after taking the abortion pills, emergency services were called to Carla’s address due to her being in labour. The baby was stillborn during the phone call and confirmed dead by emergency services upon attendance at the address. 

Prosecutors on the case argued that due to internet searches conducted by Carla in the lead-up to the abortion, such as “how to lose a baby at six months” and “how to have an abortion without going to the doctor”, indicated that there was “careful planning” involved. 

However, Carla’s defence argued that due to the lockdown and a reduction in face-to-face medical appointments, it was necessary to search for information online. 

They also argued that Carla was in “emotional turmoil” surrounding the events leading up to the abortion, having moved back in with her estranged partner whilst carrying another man’s baby.

The judge labelled the case as “tragic”, saying that Carla was “wracked by guilt” and that her three children, one of whom has special needs, will suffer from her imprisonment. 

The court was sent a mitigation plea, co-signed by many organisations, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Royal College of Midwives, calling for a non-custodial sentence, arguing that imprisonment would deter other women from accessing safe abortion services or being open and honest with medical professionals, especially in late-gestation. 

BPAS were “shocked and appalled” by Carla’s sentence and called on MPs to do more to offer protection for women seeking abortions so that “no more women in these desperate circumstances are threatened with prison again.” 

Labour MP, Stella Creasy said: “This case shows that the failure to address this has very real modern-day implications. In the light of repeated attacks on women’s rights and the lack of compassion, this case shows it’s never been more urgent to ensure it is a formal human right of all women in the UK to access a safe, legal and local abortion if she chooses.”

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality party, said: “No one deserves to be criminalised for seeking healthcare, which is a human right.”

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