A woman who illegally procured her own abortion when she was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant has been jailed in what a judge called a “tragic” case.
Carla Foster, 44, was sent abortion-causing drugs by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) after she called them during lockdown in 2020 and lied about how far along in her pregnancy she was, Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard on Monday.
The prosecution said Foster made a number of internet searches between February and May 2020, including “how to hide a pregnancy bump”, “how to have an abortion without going to the doctor” and “how to lose a baby at six months”.
Foster, who had three sons before becoming pregnant again in 2019, did not see a doctor about her pregnancy because she was “embarrassed” and did not know how far along she was, the court was told.
She spoke to a nurse practitioner at BPAS, an abortion care service, on May 6 2020 and, based on her answers to questions about her pregnancy, it was determined she was only around seven weeks pregnant and she was sent abortion pills in the post.
Days later, on May 11 2020, having taken the pills, a 999 call was made at 6.39pm saying the defendant was in labour.
Her child was born during the course of the phone call, prosecutors told the court.
The baby was not breathing and despite resuscitation attempts by paramedics, who arrived at the scene at about 7pm, she was pronounced dead at hospital around 45 minutes later.
A post-mortem examination determined the child was between 32 and 34 weeks’ gestation when born.
Her cause of death was recorded as stillbirth and maternal use of abortion drugs.
The defendant was initially charged with child destruction and pleaded not guilty.
She later pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion, which was accepted by the prosecution.
The maximum sentence is life imprisonment.
Prosecuting, barrister Robert Price said: “She lied to BPAS about how pregnant she was so they sent the tablets to her. She said she had not seen a doctor about her pregnancy because she was embarrassed.
“While the baby was not full term, she was approaching that stage of development. Multiple and prolonged internet searches showed a level of planning.
“The taking of the drugs was a planned and deliberate act in which her intention could only have been to procure an abortion.”
Defending Foster, Barry White said Covid lockdowns had changed the way healthcare and advice services were operating to minimise face-to-face contact.
He told the court: “The restrictions placed on services to advise women may explain why there were so many internet searches for information on behalf of the defendant.
“We can never really know or imagine the turmoil she would have been experiencing at the time.
“The defendant may well have made use of services had they been available at the time. This will haunt her forever.”
Mr Justice Pepperall acknowledged it is an emotive case and said it was made more “tragic” because the defendant did not plead guilty earlier, adding that he may have been able to consider suspending the jail sentence if she had.
He said Foster, who was given a 28-month extended sentence, will serve 14 months in custody and the remainder on licence after her release.
He added: “This case concerns one woman’s tragic and unlawful decision to obtain a very late abortion.
“The balance struck by the law between a woman’s reproductive rights and the rights of her unborn foetus is an emotive and often controversial issue. That is, however, a matter for Parliament and not for the courts.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, asked if Rishi Sunak is confident that criminalising abortion in some circumstances remains the right approach, told reporters: “Our laws as they stand balance a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortions with the rights of an unborn child. I’m not aware of any plans to address that approach.”