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UK: Woman jailed for aborting baby daughter at '32-34 weeks' with pills

Image credit: Stoke Senital (L) and Juan Manuel Sanchez (Unsplash) (R)

A British woman has been jailed for aborting her baby girl, who was between 32 and 34 weeks gestation, using abortion pills after the legal limit. 

Mother of three, Carla Foster, accessed abortion pills after a remote consultation where she did not reveal how far along in the pregnancy she was.

It is believed that the 44-year-old received abortion pills by post and that her baby was 32-34 weeks gestation when she took the pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, to end the pregnancy.

Foster was able to get hold of the pills to bring on an abortion under the UK’s controversial “pills by post” schemes, which was introduced by the British government during the first Covid lockdown.

The pills were made available in March 2020 without in person consultation, ending the prior requirement for women seeking abortions to be seen and assessed in person — allowing women to end pregnancies up to 10 weeks at home.

While the decision to remove safeguards igngited huge controversy and muliple campaigns  from pro-life advocacy groups, the telemedicine abortion scheme has remained in place long after the UK exited lockdown.

Foster was sentenced to more than two years in prison after Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court  heard that she had provided false information knowing she was over the 10-week limit to use the pills. While abortion is legal up to 24 weeks in the UK, after 10 weeks gestation, it must be carried out in an abortion facility.

Foster’s baby girl, who she named Lily, was born on the evening of 11 May 2020, not breathing, during an emergency phone-call which was made after she took the abortion pills. The child was confirmed dead about 45 minutes later.

The baby’s cause of death was recorded as stillbirth and maternal use of abortion drugs after a post-mortem examination was carried out. She was estimated to be between 32 and 34 weeks’ gestation.

The court heard how the mother of three had carried out online searches which prosecutors said was indicative of “careful planning” — and that between February and May of 2020, Foster had searched “how to lose a baby at six months,” “how to hide a pregnancy bump”, “if you get hit in the belly, will you lose your baby?” and “how to have an abortion without going to a doctor”.

Abortion provider the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) sent Foster the pills as they estimated she was seven weeks pregnant based on the information she provided and not seeing her in person. 

Her defence made the argument that lockdown had “changed access to healthcare” and so Foster had to resort to searching for information online.

Her barrister Mr Barry White said that the woman still required assistance from mental health services and had shown extreme remorse, adding that she “cannot forgive herself and that it will haunt her forever”

The court heard that Foster, from Staffordshire, was already a mother to three sons before she fell pregnant in 2019 with a fourth child.

Foster had been having relationships with two men other than her estranged partner, and, after discovering she was pregnant in late 2019, did not know which of the men was the father, the court heard.

It was detailed how she moved back in with her estranged partner at the beginning of lockdown while pregnant with the baby, and that she did not want him to know about the pregnancy — making numerous internet searches from early 2020 onwards which included “how to not look pregnant”.

The judge accepted she was in “emotional turmoil” as she tried to hide the pregnancy. While she 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 1862, administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion, which was accepted by the prosecution in the case.

Judge Mr Justice Edward Pepperall decided it as a “tragic” case as he handed down a 28-month sentence — 14 of which will be spent in custody with the remainder on license.

Judge Pepperall, delivering his sentencing remarks, said he acknowledged the woman was “wracked with guilt” and suffered from “nightmares and flashbacks” of her daughter.

“I accept that you feel very deep and genuine remorse for your actions. You are wracked by guilt and have suffered depression,” he said. “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.”

Justice Pepperall said that if Foster had pleaded guilty earlier he may have been able to confused suspending her jail sentence. However, he insisted his duty was “to apply the law as provided by Parliament”. He said that a leniency letter, co-signed by a number of abortion advocacy organisations, was “not appropriate”. 

Abortion campaigners claimed in the letter appealing for leniency that imprisoning the defendant “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”.

One of the UK’s biggest abortion providers, BPAS, who supplied the abortion pills to the woman, decried the decision — saying it was “shocked and appalled” at the sentence.

Pro-life campaigners have long called for the remote abortion service to end, pointing to the dangers of a lack of in-person consultation. In September 2022, a GB News investigation found that ambulance dispatches and 999 calls dealing with concerns about abortion pills had soared by 64% since the scheme was legalised.

It also uncovered a grim reality: ambulance staff were being trained in how to deal with aborted babies born alive after their mothers took abortion pills later in pregnancy.

“The National Network of Designated Health Care Professionals have recorded cases of women taking abortion pills when they’re too far along in their pregnancy, resulting in a small number of aborted babies being born alive,” the report from last year stated.

In April last year, the HSE admitted that its own abortion pill system makes it difficult to spot when women are being coerced or abused.

The admission came in response to a parliamentary question put forward by Independent TD for Laois-Offaly, Carol Nolan last month. In response to Deputy Nolan’s question, the HSE claimed that telemedicine abortion (‘DIY home abortion through abortion pills taken without face-to-face consultation) had been a ‘success’, yet conceded that the system was open to being abused.

This piece was first published on Gript

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