abortion uk limit

It’s never been clearer that abortion laws in the UK need to change

Women are marching for their rights on Saturday

Laws around abortion in the UK are Victorian. That’s not hyperbolic— they literally are. According to a law created in 1861 – before women even had the right to vote – anyone who terminates their pregnancy outside of the mandated guidelines can be sent to prison for life. Yup, in 2023, life imprisonment for deciding to do what you want with your body. Our healthcare is still criminalised.

Yesterday, these terrifyingly outdated laws were tragically enforced. A 44-year-old mother of three was sentenced to 28 months in prison for using the government’s pills by post scheme during the pandemic to terminate her pregnancy between 32 and 34 weeks. The legal limit is 24 weeks.

Outrage has erupted from MPs, medical bodies, abortion providers and charities at the decision, who’ve spent years demanding abortion is decriminalised in the UK, long before Roe v Wade was overturned in America: “What many of us are worried about is this could be the start of many more prosecutions and an attempt to chill a woman’s right to choose in this country,” explained Labour MP, Stella Creasy to The Times.

Worry is needed. The number of women and girls facing police investigation and life imprisonment under current abortion laws has risen over the past three years, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service [BPAS]. Under current laws, in order for a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks, you have to show you would suffer from permanent injury to mental health by becoming a mother. Essentially, you have to be seen as mad, hysterical, or unfit as a mother to make that choice.

— Harriet Johnson (@HarrietEJohnson) June 12, 2023

“No woman should have to justify why she doesn’t want to have a baby,” pointed out activist Charli Howard on Instagram. “This poor woman is going to prison for over two years with people who have committed genuinely bad crimes. She was clearly terrified and went to drastic measures to not have to bring a child into the world that she couldn’t take care of.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with ethics or morals, and is instead a perfect example of controlling and policing women’s bodies. There is nothing ‘pro life’ about taking a mother away from the children she is clearly already struggling to raise: children who need their mother.”

Chiara Capraro, women’s human rights programme director at Amnesty International UK, added: “Access to abortion is essential healthcare and should be managed as such. This is a tremendously sad story and underscores the desperate need for legal reform in relation to reproductive health.”


Ahead of the trial, which found Carla Foster guilty, healthcare professionals including the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, wrote the judge a letter asking him (yes, it was a man) not to send Carla to jail.

But in his sentencing remarks, justice Edward Pepperall made it clear he was sentencing Carla because it was his duty to “apply the law as provided by Parliament”, adding that any change to abortion laws was “a matter for parliament and not for the courts”.

Essentially, women will only be protected from life imprisonment for abortion when MPs bring forward legal change. “There has never been a clearer mandate for parliamentary action,” reacted Clare Murphy, chief executive of BPAS. “And the need has never been so urgent.”

Yet, regardless of the outrage and horror that’s erupted in response to Carla Foster being jailed, the Government has confirmed nothing will change in the UK’s abortion laws: “Through the Abortion Act, all women have access to safe abortions on the NHS up to 24 weeks,” the prime minister’s official spokesperson said. “We have made changes so that now includes taking abortion pills at home. We think this approach provides the right balance and… there are no plans to change this.’

But campaigners won’t give up. On Saturday, June 17, from 1pm until 4pm, the Women’s Equality Party, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Fawcett Society and many members of the public are set to march on the Royal Courts of Justice in Westminster to call for abortion law reform, so no woman is ever jailed for making a choice about her body again.