Women's rights activists are calling for urgent abortion law reform after a UK woman is jailed

Abortion rights march
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A UK woman was sentenced to 28 months in prison on Monday for inducing an abortion after the legal limit. 

The mother of three pleaded guilty under the Offences Against the Person Act in March. 

The unnamed woman, now 44, took abortion pills in 2020 during lockdown as part of the "pills by post" service introduced during the pandemic after a remote consultation. She went on to deliver a foetus estimated to be between 32-34 weeks after taking the pills, reporting that she did not know how advanced her pregnancy was. The country's limit for telemedicine is 10 weeks.

She was charged with child destruction under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 at Stoke Crown Court, and faced a maximum penalty of life in prison. 

She is expected to serve the first half of her 28 month sentence in custody, after which she will spend the remaining half under license.

Abortion rights

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While the circumstances of this case have divided the public in the days since, it has brought to light the outdated abortion laws in this country (still in existence from 1861) and the urgent need for reform.

Women's rights activists and political leaders have been calling for parliament to overhaul the outdated laws, with the Women's Equality Party holding a march in London this weekend to call for abortion law reform and make this a catalyst for change. 

Taking place on Saturday 17th June at 1pm, the march will meet at the Royal Courts of Justice and finish at Westminster, calling for the full decriminalisation of abortion.

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"Yesterday we heard the news that a woman has been sentenced to prison for over two years for an abortion outside of the legal time limits," announced the Women's Equality Party in a statement. "I think that everybody can agree that what happened in this case is tragic, but all that the intervention of the criminal justice system has done here is make it even more tragic.

"Criminalisation doesn't prevent women in crisis breaking the rules, it doesn't even reduce the number of abortions. All it does is deter women from seeking healthcare when they need it, and generate cruel verdicts like this."

The statement continued: "WE are calling for the full decriminalisation of abortion, and to be clear that is NOT to say we are calling for abortions without medical restrictions. Abortions can and should be regulated and managed like all other healthcare. It already is in countries like Northern Ireland and Canada.

"It serves absolutely no one to lock this woman up for years, or to separate three children from their mother. She was sentenced under a law that was written before women even had the right to vote - it’s long since time we brought it into the 21st century.

"Want to take action? March with us this weekend! Or if you can't make the protest, help us to flood the health secretary's phone line this Wednesday."

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“It is a hangover from another era that our abortion laws are based not on healthcare considerations, but first and foremost criminal sanctions," Labour MP Stella Creasy stated after the sentencing.. “This case shows that the failure to address this has very real modern day implications. In the light of repeated attacks on women’s rights and the lack of compassion this case shows, its never been more urgent to ensure it is a formal human right of all women in the UK to access a safe, legal and local abortion if she chooses”.

"This sentence is cruel and utterly heartbreaking," added the Women's Equality Party on Monday. "No woman should go to prison for seeking healthcare. It is not in the public interest to rip her away from her children and imprison her. We must decriminalise abortion. Until then, women are at risk."

We will continue to update this story.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.