21 August 2023

Woman jailed for obtaining abortion medication online, has had her jail sentence suspended

Written by Rachael McAdorey

A woman in England jailed for obtaining medication online in 2020 in order to procure an abortion when she was between 32-34 weeks pregnant, has had her two-year jail sentence suspended.

In England abortion is generally legal up to 24 weeks, and is performed in a hospital or clinic after 10 weeks.

A telemedicine scheme was introduced during the Covid pandemic for women to obtain medication online (mifepristone and misoprostol), to abort unwanted pregnancies of up to ten weeks gestation. This service is funded by the NHS. It is thought that the woman in this case, misled the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (‘BPAS’), by saying that she was below the ten-week cut off, in order to gain access to telemedicine services.

The woman, aged 44, pleaded guilty in March 2023 to an offence under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. A plea in mitigation was sent to the trial judge, which was signed by groups including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives. The concern was that a custodial sentence would deter women in a similar position from accessing telemedicine services. A custodial sentence was, however, imposed, with the woman ordered to serve half of her twenty-eight-month sentence in prison, and the remaining half under licence. The trial judge commented that the woman knew that her pregnancy was beyond 24 weeks, and that she deliberately lied to gain access to telemedicine services. Following an appeal, the immediate custodial sentence has been changed to a suspended sentence.

Whilst the facts of this case were very specific, the number of women and girls facing police investigations and the threat of life imprisonment under current abortion laws has risen over the past three years, according to BPAS.

There are variations in the legislation governing abortion across the UK. It is important that all those involved in prescribing for, and treating patients seeking abortions, are aware of the legislative provisions within the jurisdictions in which they are practising.

If you would like any further information or advice on these issues, please contact Rachael McAdorey from the Healthcare team.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

About the author

Rachael McAdorey

Senior Associate

Rachael McAdorey is a Senior Associate in the Healthcare Team at Carson McDowell. Rachael specialises in Professional Discipline/Regulatory Healthcare. Rachael assists and represents Doctors, Dentists and Pharmacists in General Medical Council, General Dental Council, and Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland investigations and hearings.

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