Consultation Responses

Law Commission: 14th Programme of Law Reform

In my written response I highlight the need for a review of the criminal offence of concealment of birth. Drawing on findings from my research, I argue that the continued existence of the law and the way it is applied to cases needs urgent investigation as:

  • The offence is predominantly used when women are suspected of killing newborn children, but there is not enough evidence to convict them of a homicide offence (murder, manslaughter, or infanticide).
  • The offence is also used as a proxy for foetal homicide laws.
  • The women who are captured under this law are incredibly vulnerable, experiencing a crisis pregnancy.
  • The offence is so broad as to allow these vulnerable women to be criminalised in instances where they abandon the dead body of the baby in a panic and out of fear.
  • As the offence can be broadly applied it places all women of reproductive age at risk for over-criminalisation. The vulnerabilities experienced by those convicted of this offence are specific to women due to their ability to become pregnant. Thus, this offence demonstrates a sex-based discrimination against women.

Read my full response here.

Women’s Health Strategy

In 2021 the Department of Health and Social Care launched a consultation to help inform the development of the government’s Women’s Health Strategy.

In my written response I emphasised the strategy must place the needs of women at the centre. In relation to reproductive rights this means:

  • Women-centred maternity care at all stages of pregnancy, labour, and delivery.
  • Decriminalisation of abortion so that it can be regulated as medical care, not a criminal justice issue.
  • Continued access to home use of both pills for early medical abortions.
  • Continued access to abortion care in clinic settings, with no reduction in funding for service providers.

Read my response to the consultation here.

Home Use of Both Abortion Pills

In 2021 the governments in England, Scotland, and Wales launched consultations to seek views on whether temporary rules that allowed women to terminate early pregnancies in their own homes with the use of two pills should continue.

During the COVID-19 pandemic temporary approvals were put in place, enabling women and girls to take both pills for early medical abortion (up to 10 weeks’ gestation) in their own homes, following a telephone or e-consultation with a clinician, without the need to first attend a hospital or clinic.

It is vital that women continue to be allowed access to these drugs for use at home for early medical abortions. This method of termination is safe and allows women to manage their reproductive health privately and respectfully.

Read my analysis of why home-use of both abortion pills should continue for early medical abortions in The Independent.

Read my responses to the English and Welsh consultations.

 Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Draft Quality Standard

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) asked for responses to a proposed quality standard for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The quality standard covers assessment and diagnosis of people affected by FASD and alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

NICE proposed the following statements within the quality standards:

  • Statement 1 Pregnant women are given advice not to drink alcohol during pregnancy at their first contact appointment.
  • Statement 2 Pregnant women have information on their alcohol consumption recorded throughout their pregnancy.

I responded to the consultation, focusing on the damage that the above statements could do to women’s rights and ability to access healthcare while pregnant.

  • The advice in the statements that women should not consume any alcohol while pregnant is based on limited evidence that a small amount of alcohol causes harm to a foetus.
  • The quality statement documents fall back on popular tropes of the pregnant woman as ‘mother,’ drawing on the notion and assumption that any ‘good’ mother would and should act in the best interests of the foetus.
  • There is potential for the draft quality statement to reignite attempts to hold women liable (criminally or civilly) for their actions while pregnant that are deemed to have a negative impact upon the health and welfare of the foetus post-birth.

Read my full response to the consultation here.

For analysis of potential harm that could be caused by the proposed quality standards, see the post I wrote with colleagues for the Durham CELLS blog, Responding to Challenges in Diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Coroner Investigations of Stillbirths

In 2019 the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health & Social Care requested views on proposals for introducing coronial investigations of stillbirth cases in England and Wales.

I responded to advise that introduction of coronial investigations into stillbirth cases may open the doors for the regulation of the behaviour of women while pregnant, and so may have unforeseen negative consequences on women’s reproductive rights and, consequently, their human rights. 

See my full response here.