• Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Abortion is healthcare, not a crime

ByIone Gildroy

Jul 6, 2023
An image from an abortion rights protest. The camera is focused on one person who is wearing a rainbow striped long sleeve top and holding a sign which reads in red 'abortion is a human right'

A few months ago I wrote an editorial highlighting issues surrounding abortion rights and access in Scotland. This remains a topic I’m passionate about, as abortion rights worldwide are not what they should be. Laws keep being passed and cases decided that restrict fair access. We are going backwards, not forwards.

A year has passed since Roe v Wade was revoked in the US, restricting women in certain states from having fair access to abortion, something that is still shocking to think could’ve happened in 2022.

FROM MARCH: Editorial: Abortion in Scotland

A few weeks ago in the UK, a woman was jailed for more than two years after pleading guilty to taking drugs to induce an abortion after the legal limit.

Let that sink in. In 2023, a woman has been jailed because of a legal form of healthcare. Yes, she took the pills after the legal time limit allowed, but it is wrong to make this a criminal offence. Abortion is healthcare, not a crime. 

The woman, who is a mother of three, received the medication under the “pills by post” scheme, which was introduced during lockdown in 2020.

The scheme allowed medication to be supplied to induce an abortion for a pregnancy of up to 10 weeks after a remote consultation.  

Abortion is legal in England up to 24 weeks, but after 10 weeks the procedure legally must be carried out in a clinic.

The court heard that the woman was between 32-34 weeks pregnant when she took the pills, and that she was not aware of the stage of her pregnancy as she was unable to attend a scan because of the lockdown. 

The defence said that the woman showed extreme remorse and had said she “cannot forgive herself and that it will haunt her forever.”

The defence also said that she needed “family and support,” not a custodial sentence.

The prosecution said that the woman had knowingly misled the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), as she believed she was about 28 weeks pregnant.

The court also heard that she had made several Google searches, including “I need to have an abortion but I’m past 24 weeks” and “Could I go to jail for aborting my baby at 30 weeks.”

The woman has been sentenced to over 2 years in prison.

READ MORE: What are we facing in 2023?

Her 3 children will have to live for 3 years without a mother, and she will have to miss 3 years of their lives.

A sentence such as this is in no one’s interest, not hers, not the healthcare service, not the legal system, not the public. 

A woman is being punished for attempting to seek healthcare, a human right, in the middle of a pandemic. It is concerning what this could mean for other women who want or need an abortion in the future.

Abortion must be removed from criminal law and instead be regulated in line with other healthcare procedures.

FROM 2021: The Student investigates the fight for abortion clinic buffer zones

Yes, in this case, it went wrong. But women should not be punished for that.

As Labour MP Stella Creasy says, “It is an hangover from another era that our abortion laws are based not on healthcare considerations, but first and foremost criminal sanctions.

“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, it’s 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”.

Clare Murphy, the chief executive of BPAS, who were supporting the woman, said: “We are shocked and appalled by the decision to sentence a mother-of-three to 28 months in prison for using abortion pills to end her own pregnancy.

“No woman can ever go through this again. In their sentencing remarks, the judge made it that women will only be protected from prosecution if MPs bring forward legal change. There has never been a clearer mandate for parliamentary action, and the need has never been so urgent.”

Cases such as this show that abortion is still not a protected right for women in the UK, and raise severe concerns about the future of abortion rights in the UK, especially under governments which seem to show a lack of support for this human right.

At home abortions are legal to 12 weeks in Scotland. Information about access to abortions in Scotland is available at NHS inform.

Roe v Wade OVERTURNED: Protest to defend US Abortion Rights (Melb)” by matt hrkac is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By Ione Gildroy

Former Deputy Editor-in-Chief Former News Editor