A second woman has appeared in court charged with an abortion-related offence in England in less than a week.
Both cases – one of which was brought under a 160-year-old law – see the women facing potential life sentences behind bars.
A 44-year-old woman appeared at North Staffordshire Magistrates Court on Tuesday (19 July) charged with ‘intentional destruction of a viable unborn child’, an offence under the 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act.
According to a summary of charges read out in court, she is accused of taking an abortion pill after the legal limit for terminations that do not threaten a woman’s life (24 weeks). Her case has now been sent to Crown Court.
Last week (15 July) a 25-year-old woman, who is the mother of a small toddler, appeared in Oxford Crown Court charged with ‘administering poison with intent’ to procure an abortion. The drug in question was misoprostol.
She followed the hearing with the help of an interpreter and pleaded not guilty. A full trial is scheduled for next year.
The crime of administering drugs to procure an abortion was introduced in the Offences Against the Person Act in 1861 – around the time of the American Civil War, and almost 70 years before women won full voting rights in the UK.
Neither of the two abortion offences were repealed when the 1967 Abortion Act was brought in, allowing terminations under a set of strict criteria if two doctors give their permission.
Abortions carried out unofficially outside of these parameters, either before or after the 24-week limit, remain a criminal matter with a potential life sentence, with no distinction made between women who end their own pregnancies or those who perform illegal abortions on them.
NationalWorld is investigating how abortion laws are being used against British women, and was present in court for both the recent cases. We have chosen not to name either woman.
Last month we revealed how at least 17 women and girls had been investigated by police in England and Wales on suspicion of procuring illegal abortions since March 2014, under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
A further 15 were investigated on suspicion of child destruction under the 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act.
However, the Home Office did not know the sex of the suspect in a large number of cases.
NationalWorld estimates the true number of cases involving females could be in the region of 29 and 28 respectively, if the proportion of females in the cases where the sex was not known was the same as for the cases where the sex was recorded.
In law, no distinction is made between women trying to abort their own pregnancies or other people – male or female – who assist them, either by performing an abortion or selling or aquiring drugs to be used in one.
Cases could also include assaults on pregnant women that resulted in pregnancy loss.
Overall, there have been 51 investigations under the 1861 Act and 79 under the 1929 Act since March 2014, including cases where the sex of the suspect was either male or not recorded.
This story originally reported that the woman who appeared in Staffordshire was accused of taking an abortion pill at 26 weeks pregnant, as stated by a court official during the hearing. The Crown Prosecution Service has since confirmed this was an error. The 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act applies to pregnancies of at least 28 weeks.