Woman is sentenced to eight years in prison for procuring miscarriage

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 19 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6308
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A woman who pleaded guilty to the rarely charged, 150 year old offence of administering a poison or “other noxious thing” with intent to procure a miscarriage has been given an eight year prison sentence at the Crown Court in Leeds.

Sarah Catt, who took misoprostol just days before her baby was due to be born, was charged under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Mr Justice Cooke told her that the starting point of the sentence for her “cold, calculated” act was 12 years, but he gave her a one third discount for pleading guilty at an early stage after she was charged. She will serve half the sentence in prison and half out of prison on licence but will be subject to recall if she commits another offence.

Catt, who has two children aged 8 and 10 with her husband, had been having a seven year affair with a work colleague and thought that the baby was his, the court was told. A scan in March 2010 showed that she was 29 weeks pregnant, too late for a termination under the Abortion Act. Suspicions were raised when she later failed to register the birth.

In April she ordered the drug over the internet from India. It was delivered to her home when she was 38 weeks pregnant. Around 11 days later, on 21 May, she asked on the internet what would happen if she took the drug at full term, and on 26 May she asked how soon the drug would work.

The judge said it was “a fair inference” that she took the drug around that time. She told a psychiatrist that she had taken the drug when her husband, who did not know about the pregnancy, was away and that she had delivered the baby boy, who was not breathing or moving, by herself at home. She claimed that she buried him but has refused to say where the body is buried.

The judge, who had no similar precedents to guide him in sentencing, said that the seriousness of the crime lay between manslaughter and murder. Catt could have been charged with murder had the baby been born just a few days later and she had killed him, he added.

“The child in the womb was so near to birth that, in my judgment, all right thinking people would consider this offence more serious than manslaughter or any offence on the calendar other than murder,” he said. “What you have done is rob an apparently healthy child, vulnerable and defenceless, of the life which he was about to commence.”

He said that Catt had no psychiatric problems, had good enough A levels to get on to a university course in mathematics, had experience of abortion, adoption, and childbirth, and must have had full knowledge of the developmental stages of a child in the womb. “This was a cold, calculated decision that you took for your own convenience and in your self interest alone.”

Catt had become pregnant while at university and had given up her daughter for adoption immediately after birth. She had become pregnant by her partner, now her husband, in 2000, but had a termination.

In 2002 she again sought a termination but was told that the pregnancy was too far advanced, and the baby was born in July 2002. Pregnant again in 2003, she concealed the pregnancy from her husband until the child was delivered in April 2004.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6308

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