162-Year-Old Law Used to Jail Woman For Taking Abortion Pills Beyond Legal Time Limit

The woman was sentenced to 28 months in prison after pleading guilty, despite saying she hadn’t known how many weeks pregnant she had been.
Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus.

A woman has been sentenced to 28 months in prison for procuring pills for an abortion beyond the legal limit after NHS doctors, women’s health organisations and MPs urged for her to be spared jail.

The 44-year-old mother of three got the pills to induce an abortion at home via the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. These telemedical abortions were brought in during COVID lockdowns to allow people to have terminations at home while unable to physically visit a doctor. This service is allowed for pregnancies up to 10 weeks.


Hannah Al-Othman, reporting for The Times, tweeted that Stoke-on-Trent crown court heard on Monday that the foetus was estimated to be between 32 and 34 weeks old when delivered stillborn in hospital. 

In March, the woman pleaded guilty to procuring drugs to induce an abortion under the Offences against the Person Act, a piece of legislation dating back to 1861. 

The woman, who has not been identified, said that she did not know how many weeks pregnant she was and had not been able to have a scan due to lockdown, but the court heard today that police gathered evidence of web searches and messages which contradict this. 

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for the east London constituency of Walthamstow, has called for “urgent reform” of England’s abortion law following the sentencing to “make safe access for all women in England, Scotland and Wales a human right.” She added that “the average prison sentence for a violent offence in England is 18 months”. 

The woman will serve half of her sentence in custody and the rest under licence.

MSI Reproductive Choices have described it as a “rare and distressing case”, with their Associate Clinical Director Dr Sarah Salkeld stating “it is neither a compassionate nor a proportionate response to prosecute someone for ending their pregnancy. Nor is it in the public interest. 

“The fact that this came to court could have repercussions for those who find themselves in unimaginably difficult situations, including unexplained pregnancy loss.”

Last year, a letter signed by 66 organisations and individuals from women’s health organisations including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions urging them to end the prosecuting of women who end their own pregnancies. 

They wrote: “It is our strong belief that in the 21st century, in the shadow of the overturning of Roe v Wade, it is never in the public interest to prosecute women in these circumstances.”