Woman jailed for obtaining tablets to end pregnancy to be released after appeal

A woman jailed for illegally obtaining abortion tablets to end her pregnancy during lockdown has won her Court of Appeal bid to reduce her sentence and will be released from prison.

Carla Foster, 45, was handed a 28-month extended sentence after she admitted illegally procuring her own abortion when she was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant.

Sentencing her at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court last month, Mr Justice Pepperall said Foster would serve half her term in custody and the remainder on licence after her release.

But at the Court of Appeal in London on Tuesday, three judges reduced her prison sentence.

Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde and Mrs Justice Lambert, said Foster’s sentence would be reduced to 14 months and that it should be suspended.

She said: “This is a very sad case, not least because of the length of the gestation when the offence was committed.

“It is a case that calls for compassion, not punishment, and where no useful purpose is served by detaining Ms Foster in custody.”

Dame Victoria added that there was “exceptionally strong mitigation” in Foster’s case and that she should be released from prison “immediately”.

Foster appeared for the hearing via video-link from Foston Hall Prison (pictured), wearing glasses and a dark blue top with flowers on the shoulders.

At her sentencing, the court heard she was sent the drugs by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) after she called them during lockdown in 2020 and lied about how far along in her pregnancy she was.

But during her appeal, her barrister Barry White said there was a lack of “vital” reports into Foster’s mental health at the time of the offence and that “the obvious impact of the pandemic added to Ms Foster’s already anxious state of mind”.

The Court of Appeal was told that the prison in which Foster has spent 35 days has refused to allow her any form of communication with her three children, one of whom is autistic.

Mr White also said Foster had voluntarily brought her actions to the attention of the police, adding: “Had she not done that, it is highly unlikely that she would have ever been prosecuted.”

Foster was initially charged with child destruction and pleaded not guilty, before admitting an alternative charge of administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion.

Mr White said she was given 20% credit for her guilty plea to the second charge but could have been given the standard one third.

Robert Price, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the original sentence was not “manifestly excessive”.

He added: “The judge correctly made allowances for mitigating factors in this unusually sensitive case.”

As well as the 14-month suspended prison sentence, Foster will also have to complete up to 50 days of activity.

The decision to reduce Foster’s sentence was welcomed by women’s rights groups.

Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, BPAS chief executive Clare Murphy said: “We echo the judges’ statements that this is a case that calls for compassion, not punishment, and are delighted with the decision to release Carla Foster from prison.

“The Court of Appeal has today recognised that this cruel, antiquated law does not reflect the values of society today.

“Now is the time to reform abortion law so that no more women are unjustly criminalised for taking desperate actions at a desperate time in their lives.

“Two women accused of illegally ending their own pregnancies are currently awaiting trial.

“We urge Parliament to take action and decriminalise abortion as a matter of urgency so that no more women have to endure the threat of prosecution and imprisonment.”

Chiara Capraro, Amnesty International UK’s women’s rights director, said: “We are relieved that the Court of Appeal has reduced Carla Foster’s sentence and that she will be released from prison, but she should never have been put through such a hideous ordeal in the first place.

“It was deeply disturbing to witness a woman in the UK being sentenced to jail because of a law dating back to 1861.

“Access to abortion is essential healthcare and should be managed as such. This is a deeply upsetting story, from beginning to end, and underscores the urgent need for abortion to be decriminalised in England and Wales.”

Right to Life UK have called for a “full inquiry” into BPAS over sending Foster the tablets.

Spokesperson Catherine Robinson said: “The Government must firmly reject changing legislation to make abortion legal right up to birth, as is proposed by abortion campaigners, led by BPAS, who are using this tragic case to call for the removal of more abortion safeguards and to build momentum for their campaign to introduce abortion up to birth across the United Kingdom.”

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