Teenager ‘ended pregnancy illegally by taking abortion pill’

Sophie Harvey and Elliot Benham leave Gloucester Crown Court after the first day of their trial
Sophie Harvey and Elliot Benham leave Gloucester Crown Court after the first day of their trial

A teenager bought abortion pills online for more than £300 to end her pregnancy at six months, a court has heard.

Sophie Harvey is accused of taking the drug to end her pregnancy after learning she was at 28 weeks and five days’ gestation – meaning she could not get a legal abortion in England.

Prosecutors allege Harvey, and her boyfriend, Elliot Benham, who were both 19 at the time, searched online for methods to end the pregnancy and bought the drug, which she later took.

Anna Vigars KC, prosecuting, told Gloucester Crown Court abortions are legal in England up to 24 weeks gestation if carried out by a registered medical practitioner, and can be carried out beyond 24 weeks in very limited circumstances, which did not apply in this case.

“These two young people found themselves in a very difficult situation facing difficult choices – a situation of their own making,” she said.

“In the summer of 2018, they were both 19 and in a relationship and had been for about a year.”

Ms Vigars explained that by August 2018, Harvey thought she might be pregnant having not had a period since mid-April.

Harvey and Benham told the GP she might be about 16 weeks’ pregnant and did not want to keep the child, so were referred to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

‘Both appeared shocked’

The couple had an appointment at BPAS on Aug 30 where a scan revealed Harvey was at 28 weeks and five days’ gestation.

“It was impossible for her to have an abortion at this stage,” Ms Vigars said.

“Staff spent time speaking with them and unsurprisingly both of them appeared shocked.”

One member of staff said: “She appeared scared and stunned, catatonic, I was not able to make eye contact as she kept looking at the floor.

“I remember her saying it was not an option for her to tell her parents. She didn’t disclose what she intended to do about the pregnancy.”

BPAS staff referred Harvey back to her GP for urgent antenatal care, but community midwives were unsuccessful in their attempts to contact her, the court heard.

“She didn’t want to have the baby and bluntly both of them wanted the problem to disappear,” the prosecutor said.

The court heard the defendants had searched the internet for information on illegal abortions and the drugs needed.

‘They were in a difficult position’

Addressing the jury, Ms Vigars said: “Whatever your views of abortion and the right of woman to choose, or whether you believe abortion is wrong because of the ending of a life, what is very clear is this.

“By the beginning of September 2018, Sophie Harvey and Elliot Benham were in a difficult position and one that was not going to go away unless they did something about it.”

The court heard online searches were carried out, including “Is online abortion pills legit?” and “Do MTP kits work?”

Ms Vigars said about a week after the BPAS appointment, Benham paid £309.44 for drugs to induce a medical abortion, which he collected from Royal Mail on Sept 22.

Harvey later told the police they had decided to keep the baby but in September suffered a stillbirth.

“Their position is this,” Mrs Vigars said. “In fact, they suffered a stillbirth between the date the pills were ordered and the date they arrived.

‘She wrapped the baby in a towel’

“They say Sophie Harvey gave birth in a bathroom one Sunday afternoon while her family were away at a dancing competition.

“In her shocked state, she wrapped the baby in a towel and disposed of the baby.

“They say that although they had got what they needed for an illegal abortion, in fact Sophie Harvey never took the pills and the baby was born still, and the pregnancy came to an end naturally.”

Ms Vigars added: “The prosecution do not accept that account. The prosecution position is that the pregnancy was brought to an end by the taking of that pill.

“The Crown’s position is that having done the research, they obtained the pills and she took the first pill and then gave birth, before getting rid of the baby’s body.

“In getting rid of the baby’s body. they were also getting rid of any medical evidence that she had taken the pill.”

Calls, emails and letters from Harvey’s GP and a community midwife went unanswered and after she went beyond the period for giving birth, social services and the police were informed.

Officers went to her home in November 2018 and Harvey explained the baby had been stillborn and the body put in a bin.

They found the packet of pills Benham had bought in Harvey’s bedroom with one tablet missing.

Harvey, of Cirencester, Glos, denies charges of procuring a poison, procuring own miscarriage by poison and attempting to pervert the course of public justice.

Benham, of Wingfield, Swindon, denies a single charge of attempting to pervert the course of public justice.

Both defendants have pleaded guilty to concealing the birth of a child.

The trial was adjourned after Harvey became tearful in the dock.