Life is never premature
My son came into the world at 34 weeks – children like him deserve the protection of the law
It was midnight in a dingy Sofia hotel room in Bulgaria when I got the call that my first son had been born. Sitting alone on the end of the bed with tears streaming down my face, I listened as my mother-in-law sobbed down the phone: “You’ve got a beautiful baby boy!”
I was away with work — not because I was irresponsibly leaving my pregnant partner alone in the UK when she was days from giving birth, but because my sweetheart Jude came early at 34 weeks.
Our sons specialise in dramatic arrivals. Earlier this year, our second boy Zach was delivered on the living room floor — and this time I was sure to be there.
In June, I shared on social media an image of our eldest just after his birth. Apart from a tube in his nose, he looks like any other newborn. He was unquestionably a fully formed human person who brought us joy from the moment he was born. After two weeks in hospital, he was able to come home, and he is now a happy and cheeky toddler.
This is why I, and many others who would consider ourselves socially liberal, were so disturbed by the tragic story of baby Lily, whose mother Carla Foster was jailed for deliberately inducing her abortion. It is also why the decision by the Court of Appeal to reduce Ms Foster’s sentence so she can walk free causes me great concern, demonstrating how little protection now exists for viable unborn babies. A post-mortem concluded Lily was between 32 and 34 weeks gestation at the time of her death, a similar age to our older son when he was born. As demonstrated during her trial, Ms Foster knew she was in the later stages of pregnancy and well beyond the legal time limit for at-home abortions. She lied to acquire abortion pills by post — only permitted, for safety reasons, until 10 weeks of pregnancy.
There are no winners in this story. Chillingly, Carla Foster had to deliver the daughter she had killed anyway. She could have just waited a few weeks, given birth to a breathing baby, and allowed Lily perhaps to be given to one of the many couples not able to have children of their own who would have loved and treasured her. Ms Foster has herself spoken of being “plagued by nightmares and flashbacks” of the face of her dead baby at eight months gestation, a reminder that abortion is never something to be celebrated. Tragically, her three living children were deprived of their mother at home during Ms Foster’s incarceration. Lily, their sister, was deprived of her life.
Being pro-choice does not mean opposing reasonable safeguards
This is a sensitive, emotional and sad story. Ms Foster, according to Mr Justice Pepperall in his sentencing, expressed remorse and was “wracked by guilt”. In contrast, the UK’s largest abortion provider BPAS, which sent Ms Foster the abortion pills she used to end her baby’s life, has accepted no responsibility for Lily’s death or the desperate plight in which her mother has found herself in recent weeks. This is despite the fact that BPAS successfully pushed for the government to allow “pills by post” — first introduced at BPAS’s request during the pandemic with inadequate safeguards — and for them then to be made permanent afterwards. It did so ignoring warnings that this would endanger women and lead to stories exactly like Lily’s.
Worse than that, BPAS has cynically exploited this case to further its campaign for full decriminalisation that would allow abortion to be available up to birth. When pressed in a radio interview as to whether her organisation’s medical abortion protocols ought to be reformed in light of Ms Foster’s case, Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at BPAS, said “no” and expressed support for the status quo. There is currently no requirement for an in-person appointment or scan whereby the duration of a woman’s pregnancy can be confirmed. Pills by post also increase the risk of coerced abortion.
Whilst many readers will disagree with me, I am pro-choice when it comes to abortion. I believe women ought to be able to make difficult decisions about their own bodies. However, being pro-choice does not mean opposing reasonable safeguards that protect women or supporting abortion after a baby is viable. The UK already has one of the most permissive abortion laws in the world, allowing abortion up to 24 weeks compared, for example, with the EU median of 12 weeks.
As we discovered when our firstborn arrived, and as any parent of a premature baby knows, a baby in the later stages of pregnancy is a human being. It is why our abortion laws have a time limit. According to Tommy’s, the largest UK pregnancy and baby loss charity, 8,500 babies are born safely before 32 weeks gestation each year. 95 per cent of babies survive when born at 31 weeks, younger than Lily when she died. Such are the advances in medical technology that ten per cent of babies born at 22 weeks gestation, two weeks before the legal time limit for abortion, now live — with those figures rising each year. Babies at Lily’s age are unquestionably viable.
The thought that the law might permit a healthy child close to full term to be aborted, as will be permitted if BPAS and its cheerleaders get their way, ought to horrify us all. Polling shows only one per cent of women support abortion up to birth; the majority favour a moderate reduction in the UK time limit. It is time for a “Lily’s law” that properly regulates abortion pills to ensure tragic cases such as hers can never occur again. It is time that those of us who are pro-choice recognised that the principle of “my body, my choice” has to have limits. Having no limit at all would be to allow state-sponsored infanticide.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe