In June 2023, a British mother of three was imprisoned for 28 months under the British 1967 Abortion Act for performing a late-term drug-induced abortion under Courts and Tribunal Judiciary in the United Kingdom.
In Britain, abortions are only legal up to 23 weeks and 6 days. The woman terminated her pregnancy later than the 24-week legal allowance by using pills that she ordered via a telehealth-style postal service that offered patients at-home medical abortions.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said that the mother kept her actual pregnancy term hidden and claimed it to be under ten weeks. A court heard that the woman was unsure of how far along she was when she took the pills. She was imprisoned for 28 months under a law that can punish people who perform late-term abortions with up to life imprisonment. The law has its roots in an Act first enacted into law in 1861, which makes abortion a criminal offence.
An amendment to the Act changed the law so that abortion would only be considered a criminal offence after 23 weeks and 6 days, effectively legalising early-term abortions under certain conditions.
While the court has taken one perspective on the termination, that it was a crime, activists and MPs are outraged and see the decision as out of step with women’s fundamental human rights.
Laws criminalising abortion have been used to pursue women who have suffered late-term miscarriages and stillbirths. In my view, this is deeply wrong. Women should have an agency to decide what happens to their bodies, and the criminal law should not be involved.
If women are struggling in their late pregnancy, better healthcare for both body and mental health, alongside more compassion is required.
Violence has, traditionally, always been looked at as something that can physically harm a being. But abuse is not abuse because of the scars it leaves on our bodies. Abuse is abuse because of the way it makes us feel and the impact it leaves on our lives.
As such, outdated British abortion laws have no place in a modern, humane society. Instead, under the disguise of protection, these laws uphold a power dynamic that says the state is a better regulator of women’s bodies than women themselves.
In my opinion, laws like this uphold the institutionalised sexism and violence against women - institutionalised in the sense that Black letter law is enlisted - especially their bodies. When a law controls women, their choices, and makes them feel guilty for making tough choices, that in and of itself is a form of violence.
Post the judgement, protests that took place all across the United Kingdom regarding criminalising an act that should have met with compassion. The mother of three won her appeal, and her sentence was reduced from 28 months to 14 months.