Woman, 24, appears in court charged with 'procuring own miscarriage'

Woman, 24, appears in court charged with ‘procuring her own miscarriage’ under obscure 160-year Victorian law after being accused of using prescription drug to harm unborn child

  • Woman, 24, accused of unlawfully taking Misoprostol to abort her unborn child
  • The prescription drug is used by medical professionals to end a pregnancy 
  • The charge falls under Victorian law in Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  • A woman has appeared in court charged under an obscure Victorian law — of ‘procuring her own miscarriage’.

    The 24-year-old from London is accused of unlawfully administering prescription drug Misoprostol with intent to abort her unborn child.

    Misoprostol is used to prevent stomach ulcers while someone takes painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen. It is also used in combination with another drug, mifepristone, to end a pregnancy. 

    The 24-year-old from London will appear before Oxford Crown Court on April 21. She appeared at Oxford Magistrates’ Court (above) yesterday morning via video link from home. File image

    The 24-year-old from London was granted bail to appear before Oxford Crown Court on April 21. She appeared at Oxford Magistrates’ Court (above) yesterday morning via video link from home. File image

    What does the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 say about abortion?

    Attempts to procure abortion are covered in the 1861 Act under two categories:

    1. Administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion

    2. Procuring drugs to cause abortion

    However, the 1967 Abortion Act made abortions legal if performed by a doctor, authorised by two doctors acting in good faith, and met at least one qualifying factor.

    But it does not apply to Northern Ireland.

    Until 2019, anyone carrying out an abortion in Northern Ireland, except under highly limited circumstances, could be jailed for life under the 1861 Act.

    It was legalised under Section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

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    The charge relates to an incident in Oxford on January 27 last year.

    The charge dates back to the Victorian era. It was brought into law by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which also covers crimes including causing grievous bodily harm.

    Appearing before Oxford Magistrates’ Court yesterday morning via video link from home, the woman entered no plea to procuring her own miscarriage by use of poison.

    The charge is indictable only, meaning it can only be dealt with at the crown court, the magistrates heard.

    Her solicitor, Howard Wilson, said that the allegation would be denied.

    She was granted bail to appear before Oxford Crown Court for a plea and trial preparation hearing on April 21.

    In 2012, Sarah Catt took misoprostol days before her baby was due to be born.

    She pleaded guilty to administering a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage was given an eight year prison sentence at the Crown Court in Leeds.

    In 2016, a Northern Irish woman was given a suspended prison sentence for purchasing the same medication online, reported The Guardian.

    At the time, abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland. 

    Belfast crown court heard that she tried to travel to England for a termination but could not cover her costs. 

    Abortion sections of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 were repealed in Northern Ireland, in October 2019.