Is it just abortion law that needs reform after woman handed 28 month sentence?

Carla Foster is waking up in prison this morning. Her three children are waking up without their mother for the first time in what will be a 14 month ordeal for them.

Ms Foster was given a 28 month sentence yesterday for inducing an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy.  There is controversy about whether a custodial sentence was appropriate in this case, particularly as there were so many mitigating factors. Coming just months after a man who repeatedly raped a 13 year old was shown leniency, it seems like yet another instance when women are disadvantaged in the legal system.

You can only imagine how desperate she must have been to take that course of action, under huge pressure in the middle of lockdown.

The Judge, in his sentencing remarks, made clear that she was a good mother to her children, one of whom is described as having “special needs which means he is particularly reliant on your love and support.”

I tend to take the view that you should only imprison people if they are a danger to the public and it is quite clear that Ms Foster is not.  The first step to rehabilitation is to acknowledge and feel remorse for whatever crime you have done and the Judge is clear in his sentencing remarks that she is traumatised by her actions. It’s hard to see what good locking her up does.

What is particularly egregious is the fact that she is actually in prison on a technicality. Had she pled guilty at an earlier stage, her sentence could have been suspended. Surely she would have been taking the advice of her legal team at that time? The consequences of this seem disproportionate. Maybe this aspect of the law needs to be reformed.

MPs from several parties have called for a change in the abortion law as a result of this case. The law on which this distressing case rested is the Offences against the Person Act, passed in 1868. I have long argued that this Act is outdated and the law on abortion needs to be reformed to decriminalise it.  Women should not face potential life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy.

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Women and Equality Select Committee told BBC News:

This is not something that has been debated in any great detail for many years now.

And cases like this, although tragic and thankfully very rare, throw into sharp relief that we are relying on legislation that is very out of date. It makes a case for Parliament to start looking at this issue in detail.

Labour MP Stella Creasy, a long time campaigner for reform of abortion laws said:

Our own Christine Jardine tweeted:

It seems to me that in the short term, there should be new sentencing guidelines which put in place a presumption against custodial sentences in these sorts of situations. We also need to look again at how the credit for pleading guilty arrangements work and take a pragmatic approach if there is no danger to the public.

But we also need to have a proper debate on reforming the law on abortion. As it stands, it infantilises women by requiring two doctors to approve the procedure and criminalises them with totally disproportionate penalties if they act outside the rules. We also need to conduct this debate with compassion and sensitivity.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • nigel hunter 13th Jun '23 - 9:26am

    I would also add to the conversation re the ‘3 children part’ of benefit payments where you are allowed only payment for 2 children.It smacks of eugenics and bash the poor.The future children will be the carers of the future elderly.
    Seeing the relevant law was passed in the 1860’s it is well defunct for today.It should be updated and made relevant to todays needs.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jun '23 - 12:26pm

    Women are badly treated. Often a woman living alone can be treated badly, male dominance is still alive and well.

    If we say no to forced sex in many cases it’s taken lightly. We can have comments that we encouraged the rape.
    In this country we have strict laws for our protection but they are often broken.

    No medical treatment available, so yet again a woman has to take the blame.

  • Denis Loretto 14th Jun '23 - 8:45am

    At the root of this is the antidiluvian use of custodial sentencing in this country. There are obvious dangers in decriminalising late abortions but a mother of three flung into prison? The UK has one of the highest proportions of its population in prison in the world. What kind of record is that.

  • >” Had she pled guilty at an earlier stage”
    There are many questions raised in this case. The earlier case being referred to, seems to be the one where she was charged with child destruction under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, where a whole of life sentence was possible, which might have contributed her counsel to ask for an alternative charge under S.58 of the Offences against the Person Act.

    In addition to compassionate sentencing guidelines, we need to look at what prevented the judge from delivering a suspended sentence.

    As for reform of the abortion law, I suspect the best initial approach is the look at the “ancient” laws, such as the two Acts used in this case. Reform of the Abortion Act 1967 beyond compassion and recognition that women are people in their own right and not subservient to men, will only get the pro-punishment crowd going, resulting a loss of focus etc.

    As for this case, I hope the family will now get full and timely social care help.

  • Steven Comer 14th Jun '23 - 4:12pm

    Surely an appeal against sentence could be lodged? The conviction would stand but the sentence could be reduced to a suspended one.
    I’m sure the appeal could be funded by crowdfunding.

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