Mother jailed for illegal 32-week abortion using lockdown postal pills

A 44-year-old mother of three has been sentenced to over two years in prison for inducing an abortion beyond the legal limit. Carla Foster obtained medication through a “pills by post” scheme introduced during the lockdown, which allows pregnancies up to 10 weeks to be terminated at home. Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard that Foster was between 32-34 weeks pregnant when she took the pills, while abortion is legal only up to 24 weeks.

Prosecutors claimed Foster knowingly provided false information about her gestation period and had conducted online searches indicating “careful planning.” Between February and May 2020, she had searched for ways to hide a pregnancy bump, have an abortion without a doctor, and lose a baby at six months. Based on her provided information, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) estimated she was seven weeks pregnant and sent her the tablets.

Foster’s defence argued that lockdown restrictions and reduced face-to-face appointments had changed access to healthcare, prompting her to search for information online. Her barrister, Barry White, said that Foster might have used available services if they had been accessible at the time. “This will haunt her forever,” he added.

On May 11, 2020, after taking the abortion pills, an emergency call was made, stating that Foster was in labour. The baby was born not breathing during the call 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, estimating her gestation to be between 32 and 34 weeks.

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Foster, from Staffordshire, had three sons before becoming pregnant again in 2019. The court heard that she had moved back in with her estranged partner at the start of lockdown while carrying another man’s baby. The judge accepted that Foster was “in emotional turmoil” as she sought to hide the pregnancy.

Initially charged with child destruction, which she denied, Foster later pleaded guilty to an alternative charge under section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Sentencing, judge Mr Justice Edward Pepperall described the case as “tragic,” adding that if Foster had pleaded guilty earlier, he might have considered suspending her jail sentence.

He acknowledged that Foster was “wracked by guilt” and had suffered depression, adding that she was a good mother to her three children, one of whom has special needs, who would suffer from her imprisonment. Foster received a 28-month sentence, with 14 months to be spent in custody and the remainder on licence.

Before the hearing, a letter co-signed by several women’s health organisations was sent to the court, calling for a non-custodial sentence. However, the judge deemed it “not appropriate,” stating his duty was “to apply the law as provided by Parliament.”

The sentencing has sparked outrage among women’s rights organisations and campaigners. BPAS said it was “shocked and appalled” by Foster’s sentence, which was based on an “archaic law.” BPAS CEO Clare Murphy called for MPs to offer more protection so “no more women in these desperate circumstances are threatened with prison again.”

Labour MP Stella Creasy also called for “urgent reform,” comparing Foster’s 28-month sentence to the average 18-month sentence for a violent offence in England. She urged the need for safe access to abortion for all women in England, Scotland, and Wales as a human right. The Crown Prosecution Service stated that these “exceptionally rare cases” are complex and traumatic, and prosecutors must ensure that laws set by Parliament are properly considered and applied when making difficult charging decisions.

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Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.

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