A woman has been sentenced to 28 months in prison after pleading guilty to procuring drugs to induce an abortion after the legal limit.
The mother of three, 44, received the medication under the government’s Pills by Post programme brought in under the radar at the start of lockdown following a double U-turn from then health secretary, Matt Hancock.
The telemedicine service allowed women to have abortions up to ten weeks into a pregnancy at home without proper medical supervision.
The court heard previously that the woman terminated her pregnancy past that point, and at a previous hearing had pleaded guilty to taking abortion pills after the legal time limit at 32 weeks’ gestation.
The woman pleaded guilty in March this year to procuring drugs to induce an abortion under the Offences against the Person Act, legislation dating to 1861. Originally, the woman had pleaded not guilty to a charge of an offence of child destruction.
Justice Pepperall said: “This case concerns one woman’s tragic and unlawful decision to obtain a late-term abortion. In my judgment your culpability was high … because you knew full well your pregnancy was beyond the limit of 24 weeks, and you deliberately lied to gain access to telemedical services.
“I accept that you feel very deep and genuine remorse for your actions. You are wracked by guilt and have suffered depression. 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.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern who pursued a judicial review over the government’s decision to bring in Pills by Post, said: “We warned over and over about the dangerous pills by post abortion policies and how easy it would be to procure pills illegally.
“Our mystery client survey showed that this was possible and now we are seeing the tragic consequences of the lax policy BPAS campaigned so hard for.
“The primary responsibility for this tragedy lies firmly with pro-abortion campaigning organisations that promote an up-to-birth abortion culture and facilitated this dangerous and illegal abortion.
“Now a child has died and the mother lives with the terrible consequences. This should never have happened and would never have happened without the abortion industry’s pet policies.
“The government should urgently turn back the clock and end this disastrous policy of cheap, convenient, pills by post abortions.”
“At 32 weeks’ gestation, an unborn baby has a 95% chance of survival if delivered. Our abortion law rightly recognises that these precious humans deserve protection.
“The real scandal is that BPAS will not be held accountable for the reckless policies and processes that enabled this tragedy.
“BPAS is unashamedly campaigning to decriminalise abortion off the back of its own failure. BPAS appears to have little regard for the protection of the women it claims to serve – and no regard at all for their unborn children.
“Laws are there to protect life. Society is judged by how it treats is most vulnerable members. What does it say about us if we are not willing to protect a 32-week old, viable baby?”
Pills by post brought in under cover of lockdown
On 30 March 2020, after a double U-turn by now former health secretary Matt Hancock, the government allowed a woman’s home to become a place for unsupervised medical abortion. Lawyers had argued that this approval, which happened without parliamentary scrutiny, exceeded government powers and undermined the legislative purpose of the Abortion Act 1967.
The relaxed rules, which the government originally said would be ‘temporary’, have allowed powerful abortion pills to be mailed to women who were, in theory, up to ten weeks pregnant after a telephone consultation, rather than having to go to a clinic.
Prior to this approval, it was necessary for a woman’s eligibility for early medical abortion at-home to be assessed professionally by an authorised service provider during a clinic visit; this assessment routinely included the use of an ultrasound scan to confirm the gestational age of the pregnancy as well as other safeguarding measures.
The approval placed the assessment for how many weeks a woman is pregnant solely on the woman’s accurate and honest recall of the first day of her last menstrual cycle and self-assessment of her medical history.
Mystery client investigation warned about lax at-home abortion processes
The ease with which powerful abortion drugs could be accessed was exposed in 2011 by a mystery client investigation of the telemedicine service which found abortion providers sending out pills without safety checks to woman significantly over the 10 week pregnancy legal threshold.
Data released by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has revealed multiple serious incidents, including four women being allowed by providers to have traumatic abortions more than 24 weeks into their pregnancies – 14 weeks beyond the legal limit for early medical abortion.
An NHS email leak revealed concerns from a senior midwife of the “escalating risks around the Pills by Post service,” which included reports of women dying following abortion.
Furthermore, Freedom of Information requests have revealed a surge in women having to call 999 following post-abortion complications. Data has also revealed over 10,000 cases of women needing treatment for retained products of conception since the service began.
A Savanta ComRes poll has shown 86% of GPs are concerned about the risk of women being coerced into having an abortion and the potential for having a medical abortion past the legal limit of ten weeks into gestation.
Despite all the evidence and safety concerns, pills by post was made permanent in August 2022.
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