The Guardian has a good piece
on the increase in prosecutions.
Between 1861 and November 2022, three women in Great Britain were convicted of an illegal abortion (the Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland). One was a refugee, in 2012, who was given a community order. The other two, in 2012 and 2015, were given jail sentences. Since December 2022, six women have been charged. They are awaiting trial.
This really surprised me - were there really no convictions of women prior to the 21st century? A very
cursory search suggests this may be true, and that prosecutions went after abortion doctors, rather than the women obtaining the abortion.
The piece looks into the question I asked in my previous post - how are the police being alerted to potential cases. It seems that medical staff have become increasingly aware of medical abortions taking place without going through legal channels and they think they have a duty to report,
[Jonathan Lord, the co-chair of the British Society of Abortion Care Providers] and [Claire Murphy, the chief executive of BPAS] believe the greater awareness that abortion pills can be obtained, online and informally, means that more medical staff are coming into contact with those who have taken the drugs. In 2014, the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency reported record numbers of the pills being imported. Of those medics reporting women to the police, Lord says: “Although it’s not impossible some of it may be from anti-abortion sentiment, I think that’s relatively unlikely and will be sporadic. Most of the time, it is down to that ‘upright citizen’ attitude – ‘I’ve been told about a crime, it’s my duty to call the police.’
“What they don’t do is then make the next step, which is: ‘I am a healthcare professional, I’ve got confidential information about a patient.’ They’re never making that leap. In a couple of cases, I have spoken to the professional involved – they genuinely hadn’t thought about confidentiality. Had they read the General Medical Council code? What bit of that had they not understood?”
[Dr Hayley Webb, chair of Doctors for Choice] thinks many professionals have misunderstood their role in confidentiality. “They think that if they suspect a law has been broken, they have to report it. That is not true. If a patient is telling us they take class A drugs, we wouldn’t pick up the phone and call the police.”
The article describes how the lives of accused women are being ruined,
Lord describes a case of a teenager who had a stillbirth. She had a large number of risk factors, not least that she was very young, but it took a coroner more than a year to determine the pregnancy had ended due to natural causes. “She had her confidentiality completely destroyed – everything was being done while she was pregnant to make sure that nobody knew she had a progressing pregnancy, because of the community she was from, and then [after the stillbirth] the police raided the house. It was horrific. Everyone in her family, everyone in the community, knew.”
The girl’s phone and all her electronic equipment were seized, even though she was never charged, which meant that none of the agencies who had been supporting her during the pregnancy could reach her. It left her “completely isolated”, Lord says: “When you lose your phone and your computer, you lose all your social support.”
Another woman had all her electronics seized, including her work computer: “What do you tell your work?” Lord asks. “‘Oh, by the way, I’ve just been arrested and they’ve taken my computer’?”
The current abortion laws in the UK are archaic and are criminalising women for exercising bodily autonomy. They need to be changed.