What offences are committed when a mother threatens to kill her unborn baby?

03 August 2020

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question: 

If a mother threatens to kill her unborn child, for example stating she is going to take drugs to stop the baby breathing, are any offences committed?

Answer:

Section 16 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 provides for the offence of threats to kill. However, an unborn child (foetus in utero) is not a third person, distinct from its mother, for the purposes of this section. Therefore, a threat against a pregnant woman to kill her unborn baby is not an offence under this section. This was confirmed in the case of R v Tait (1989).

Based on the wording of section 16 and the ruling in R v Tait 1989, it is our view that a threat by a pregnant woman to kill her own unborn baby would also not fall under the offence of threats to kill.

We are not aware of any other offence that may be committed in these circumstances. However, in the absence of any criminal action, we would still advise contacting any relevant partner agencies, in order to get support and assistance for the woman, and ensure her safety. The threats to kill her own child may be indicative of issues regarding her mental health and wellbeing.

To read more legislation about this, login to the legal database. 

Back to Legal Questions