Woman who miscarried after abuse calls for law change

A woman who had a miscarriage after being injured by an abusive partner has watched MSPs debate her campaign for a change in the law.

Nicola Murray, from Perth, was just six weeks pregnant when she miscarried in 2013 after her abusive ex-partner flew into a rage and hit her with his car.

He pleaded guilty to culpable and reckless conduct and was ordered to pay £300 in compensation.

Miss Murray's work with other abused women led to her petitioning the Scottish Parliament in 2021 to campaign for a change in the law.

Miss Murray says she lost three babies while a victim of domestic violence between 2009 and 2017.

She is now calling for courts to be able to hand down longer sentences.

At a previous appearance before Holyrood's Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee Miss Murray told MSPs an average of four pregnant women a day were reporting incidents of domestic abuse.

"Sadly for some of those women that abuse will result in miscarriage, stillbirth, forced termination or other serious complications of pregnancy,” she told BBC Scotland News.

On Thursday, Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw, convener of the Public Petitions Committee, chaired a full chamber debate on Miss Murray's petition.

He quoted Miss Murray, saying: “It’s not just that you have to deal with the loss itself, it’s the circumstances of the loss and the fact that the perpetrator can get away with it so easily.

“It’s often the case that they are not even charged at all.

"However if they are, the sentencing is inappropriate, which is like rubbing salt in the wounds of victims.

"It’s almost like saying to them that what happened meant nothing."

Miss Murray had proposed an amendment to the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 which she drafted with Dr Mary Neal, a reader in law at Strathclyde University.

It would create a specific offence of “contributing or attempting to contribute, through violence, abusive behaviour, deception and/or coercion to the ending of a partner’s or ex-partner’s pregnancy”.

This would apply if the behaviour was either intended or reckless in contributing to the end of pregnancy.

Stricter sentences

Conservative MSP Pam Gosal referred to the five-year sentence Stephen Ramsay received for attempted murder after attacking his pregnant partner in 2019, causing her lifechanging injuries and loss of their twins at 32 weeks.

"Comparatively, elsewhere in the UK he could have received a life sentence for child destruction," Ms Gosal said.

"While nothing can heal the profound loss suffered, in such cases stricter sentences could play a pivotal role in deterring abusers."

The SNP's John Swinney, who is Miss Murray's constituency MSP, told the chamber further consideration of the issue was needed.

He said a solution needed to be found to address the circumstances Miss Murray had experienced but he wondered whether the answer lay in changing sentencing guidelines or in creating a new offence.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said jail sentences had been imposed in some cases, demonstrating that existing laws could be used effectively.

“It is likely to prove difficult both medically and causally to demonstrate, for example, that psychological abuse led to a woman’s miscarriage,” she said.

In her closing remarks, Ms Constance said: “No doors are ever closed and solutions still have to be found because our journey on ending violence against women and girls is far, far from over.”

MSPs unanimously agreed to note the petition but said further consideration would be needed before any amendments to the law are made.