Photo by Kinga Krzeminska
Artillery Row

Compassion demands justice

Tragic circumstances do not excuse horrendous crimes

After baby Stanley Mayo took his first breath, it wasn’t long until his last.

His mother, deciding that he must die that day, crushed his head — most likely with her foot. He was battered. But still he lived. So following the first assault, she shoved cotton wool balls deep into his throat. After clearing his limp body and the placenta into a black bin bag, she went to sleep.

This week, for this unthinkable crime, she was found guilty and sent to prison.

The heartbreaking and disturbing case of Paris Mayo and her baby, Stanley, has shaken all who hear of it. Rarely does one hear of such a tragic murder going hand-in-hand with sympathetic coverage of the perpetrator, however. Paris, aged 15, had been in clear denial as to her pregnancy. Shocked and traumatised, she gave birth alone in her bathroom, terrified that her parents would hear and discover the pregnancy. And so, she killed her baby. Such are the circumstances of her trauma, that many commentators question if a twelve-year jail sentence is really fair for a young girl committing such terrible deeds in a state of clear panic.

The sentence has been handed down only weeks after another woman was jailed for a similar crime. Carla Foster deliberately suffocated her eight-month-old child in utero with mifepristone abortion pills, which are intended for self-directed use during only the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. She had lied about the length of her pregnancy on the phone with abortion provider BPAS. Making no attempt to check the accuracy of her claim via ultrasound, nor examining whether she might have been suffering any medical complications, BPAS sent her pills in the post — an act of sheer medical recklessness.

At eight months pregnant, the only “choice” abortion pills offered Carla was whether to give birth to a live baby or a dead one. She chose the latter. After delivering her daughter — whom she later named “Lily” — Carla was distraught with regret and haunted by the face of her viable, sentient baby, capable of feeling the pain of her death, who would easily have survived and thrived in the world had she been delivered alive at that stage.

For killing baby Lily, Carla received a prison sentence of four years.

Both Carla and Paris committed acts of extreme brutality against helpless, innocent infants. Yet few would look upon them without at least a shred of human compassion. Both mothers must clearly have been in states of severe mental distress to upend the laws of nature so brutally.

Should we withhold justice in such cases, out of compassion?

Condoning the taking of innocent human life without consequence is never the solution

Such would be the argument of the abortion lobby. Despite being largely responsible for enabling Carla’s time in prison through inexcusable negligence, BPAS has politically manipulated her story to campaign for decriminalising abortion up to birth.

In the UK, it is currently unlawful to intentionally end the life of a child older than six months (24 weeks) in utero, unless they have any form of disability. Increasing that boundary up till full term — till nine months in utero — would mean that more women like Carla could abort healthy late-term babies for any reason without facing any legal consequences. Instead of having a legal line of protection at 24 weeks (already double the average European abortion limit), the line of distinction between lawful and unlawful killing would depend then on geography — whether a baby is outside the womb or not.

No consequences for Carla, then. Where would that leave Paris?

If abortion were decriminalised up until birth, Paris would still face jail for killing her child outside of the womb. This brings to light clear logical inconsistencies — how do we reconcile permissible late term abortion with legal consequences for the murder of a just-born child? How do we account compassionately for mothers in traumatic situations like hers?

The next step, surely, would be to widen the circle again. Decriminalise the ending of a child’s life until when — the first day after birth? The first week? The first month, or year? Where do we draw the line between justice for the child (who, as a member of our human family, has the same rights to life and health as all of us) and excusing the mother? The answer isn’t easy, but condoning the taking of innocent human life without consequence is never the solution.

The slippery slopists might well be right once again. Laws ultimately guide morality. Without law, we have unchecked brutality. With unchecked brutality, the weakest of society lose out, facing injustice and violence and death. Justice and compassion aren’t opposed. They co-exist.

We must do all we can to support women who have faced pregnancy- and abortion-related trauma with the counselling and care that they need to find healing. Averting and eroding justice after wrongdoing is not the answer, however. Removing prohibitions on late-term abortion or infanticide would only lead to the death of more innocent children like Lily — and more distress and trauma for mums like Carla, who describes being tormented in the aftermath of delivering her stillborn baby. The law is not there only to punish. It’s there to protect. In respect to the horrors faced by Carla, Lily, Paris and Stanley, we must keep it that way.

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