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Analysis: sent to prison for having an abortion?

James Mildred

Abortion heart 1i

What’s happened?

Carla Foster is a 44 year old mother of three. She ordered abortion pills during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, a temporary arrangement was in place which allowed you to have an online consultation with a medical professional and then you could be sent both abortion pills in the post so you’d do it yourself, at home, rather than in an approved medical facility.

The British Pregnancy and Advisory Service (BPAS) sent both abortion pills to Ms Foster. On 9 May, she took mifepristone and conducted internet searches suggesting she was 28 weeks pregnancy (beyond the 24 week legal limit). On 11 May at 11am, she took misoprostol. Two emergency calls were made asking for medical attention. At 4:25pm, paramedics attended but were given false information and, not realising she was pregnant, left. The second call was made at 6:39pm, paramedics attended at 7pm, but despite attempts at resuscitation, Baby Lily was pronounced dead at 7:45pm. Lily was between 32-24 weeks old. A baby born at 34 weeks has the same chances of survival as a baby born at full term (9 months).

According to the judgement handed down yesterday, she lied about the stage of pregnancy she was at in order to obtain the pills. In court, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) argued Ms Foster had been aware of abortion limits and provided false information during a remote medical consultation.

What law did the judge apply?

In his ruling, the Sentencing Judge Mr Justice Edward Pepperall has applied legislation from 1861. The Offences Against the Persons Act and in particular sections 59 and 59 makes it illegal to procure an abortion or offer one. The 1967 Abortion Act sets out exceptions to this law. It says a woman can have an abortion up to 23 weeks and 6 days under five possible grounds. Any decision must be signed off by two medical doctors. If there is evidence the child will be born with a serious handicap, abortion is legal up to term.

Being found to have broken the law in cases like this can carry a life-sentence. In this instance, Ms Foster has been sentenced to 28 months imprisonment. She will serve half of this – 14 months – in prison. In his judgement, Mr Justice Pepperall said a letter sent to him by pro abortion groups was inappropriate. It could be seen as special pleasing by those who favour wider access to abortion.

Why was she sent to prison?

Put simply, she was sent to prison because she broke the law and lied in doing so. Initially, she put in a ‘not guilty’ plea and the judge made it clear a big reason her lying has informed the final sentence she’s been given.

Isn’t this harsh?

That’s how BPAS and other pro abortion groups want you to think. But the truth is the law was broken and the Judge ruled that Foster lied to procure her abortion. We need to remember that there’s a reason the time-limit is in place: it’s to ensure there is some legal protection for the pre-born baby in all this.

This is an extremely tragic and sad case. It’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for Ms Foster and the judgement makes it clear Ms Foster was in real distress and feels real remorse over her actions. Her case highlights the failure of our abortion laws; not because we need an even more permissive regime, but because they send a signal that abortion is the only option out there.

We also need to ask ourselves some wider questions: who was looking out for the rights of the baby? And what were BPAS doing sending pills without any checks? Why did we have a law where it was so easy to abuse it? The Government was warned by CARE and many other groups that the at home abortion regime was open to abuse and dangerous for women. Despite committing to ending the pills by post scheme after the pandemic, the government u-turned after pressure from the abortion lobby.

Is abortion simply a healthcare matter?

No, because it involves the ending of a potential human life. From a Christian worldview perspective, the pre born baby is a person from the moment of conception. It has value and dignity equal to that of the mum and the dad. Therefore, it is deserving of the same legal protections. Moreover, abortions always have consequences for mother’s as well.

What is decriminalisation and why are some MPs calling for it?

Decriminalising of abortion advocates want to remove entirely the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act. The effect of doing so would be to render the 1967 Abortion Act useless because it only works in connection with the 1861 law.

Remember the abortion act does still include some legal protections for pre born babies. For example, it says after 24 weeks, it’s illegal to abort a baby. It recognises that at this point, the foetus is developed enough to be protected. So decriminalisation of abortion is all about removing the last remaining legal protections from the law. It would allow abortion anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Bear in mind that across the UK we already have very high annual abortion numbers. Last year saw records broken in England, Wales and Scotland.

To understand more about the decimalisation of abortion, read our 6 things the abortion lobby won’t tell you about the decriminalisation of abortion.

Are women bring routinely criminalised?

Absolutely not. In a recent 5 year period, there were only 30 prosecutions for procuring an illegal abortion. This should be seen in the context of 1 million legal abortions occurring in the same time period. In other words, 0.003% of the total number of legal abortions. What this demonstrates is prosecutions under the Abortion Act are exceedingly rare.

What will happen next?

Some MPs have hit the airwaves this morning to argue that parliament must act. Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Noakes said we’re relying on legislation that is out of date. Pro-abortion MPs Stella Creasy and Dame Diana Johnson have also called for law change. Clare Murphy, the CEO of BPAS told BBC Radio 4’s Today show that ‘a growing number of women’ seemed to be coming under police investigation (it should be noted that this statement was largely unchallenged, despite the weak evidence base to support it).

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said he was ‘not aware’ of government plans to change abortion laws.

How should we respond?

As Christians who believe in the value of life from conception, we must remember to hold both truth and grace together. It’s important to pause and pray before going on Twitter to let lose your stream of thoughts. Remember behind this tragic story is a mum who’s no doubt hurting and in pain. What’s happened is awful. But it’s also a symptom of a society that says abortion is okay. Let’s keep asking questions, keep challenging the status quo and do so compassionately, wisely and boldly. We need God’s supernatural grace if we’re to ever get this right!

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In any pregnancy, both the woman and preborn baby have inherent value and dignity, by virtue of being made in the image of God. CARE is passionately pro-woman and pro-life.

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