We need to talk about a small but incredibly vulnerable group of women who are prosecuted and imprisoned under archaic criminal offences such as concealment of birth and procuring a miscarriage. Research by Dr Emma Milne demonstrates these women experience "crisis pregnancies" and are living in cycles of violence and abuse with limited social support. Some experienced multiple pregnancies where they were unable to recognise and/or accept that they were pregnant and so seek medical care.
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It’s hard for some of us to imagine how a woman, in a state of fear and profound crisis, denies to herself and the world that she is pregnant. Women in this situation may attempt to illegally end her pregnancy. In other tragic cases, a woman may find herself suddenly in labour, giving birth alone, and her baby dies of unknown causes, or unintentional neglect by the mother. In one case, a woman fell unconscious after giving birth alone and awoke to find her baby had died: she was then prosecuted.
Do they deserve long prison sentences? Or do they need sympathy, compassion, and support? Does criminalising vulnerable women really prevent harm to babies? Or does it just add to the harm that these women have already experienced?
Women in crisis shouldn’t be criminalised.
Let’s help. Not harm.
Read Dr Milne's research briefings:
Dr Milne, with the support of a number of women's charities, briefed MPs and Peers at a meeting in the House of Lords. This briefing outlines the key issues.
In this briefing, Dr Milne explains the dangers of foetal protection laws, and why legislation must be repealed to protect foetuses and women.
In this briefing, Dr Milne explains why abortion needs to be removed from the criminal law.
In this briefing, Dr Milne outlines why the criminal offence of concealment of birth should be removed from the criminal law.
This project is based on research by Dr Emma Milne.
Animation by Gough Bailey Wright.
Dr Emma Milne is a feminist socio-legal scholar. Her research is interdisciplinary, focusing on criminal law and criminal justice responses to the killing of infants and foetal harm by women. The wider context of Dr Milne’s work is social controls and regulations of all women, notably in relation to pregnancy, sex, and motherhood. Dr Milne is a member of the Gender and Law at Durham (GLAD) and Centre for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice (CCLCJ) research groups.