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Public outcry ensues over woman found guilty of manslaughter following miscarriage

The sentencing of 21-year-old Brittney Poolaw, a Native American woman from Oklahoma, sets a dangerous precedent.

Public outcry ensues over woman found guilty of manslaughter following miscarriage
Image Source: Pro-Choice And Anti-Abortion Protestors Rally At U.S. Supreme Court. WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Last year, Brittney Poolaw, aged 21, suffered a miscarriage. She was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month after being found guilty of first-degree manslaughter. A jury convicted the Oklahoma woman after an autopsy revealed the fetus had been miscarried at 17 weeks. According to prosecutors, Poolaw allegedly caused her child to be stillborn as a result of intravenous methamphetamine use. The verdict has sparked a public outcry, with advocates for reproductive rights condemning the conviction. They claim it sets a dangerous precedent at a time when abortion rights are already under threat across the country, Newsweek reports.


Arpita Appannagari, the policy and partnerships manager at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, affirmed in a tweet in response to the verdict: "For anyone wondering what the 'end game' of abortion bans and restrictions could possibly be—it's this. The worst is already happening to Black and Brown women across the country." In addition to this, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) slammed Poolaw's conviction, calling it "shameful and dangerous." The non-profit shared that she sought medical help after experiencing a miscarriage in January last year. Two months later, she was arrested and charged with first-degree manslaughter. As she was unable to afford the $200,000 bond, she has remained incarcerated since her initial arrest.


Further to this, the NAPW argued that the conviction was not in line with Oklahoma's state law. In a statement, the group explained, "Oklahoma's murder and manslaughter laws do not apply to miscarriages, which are pregnancy losses that occur before 20 weeks, a point in pregnancy before a fetus is viable (able to survive outside of the womb)." Oklahoma law also states that a mother cannot be persecuted for causing a miscarriage later in pregnancy unless a crime was committed that led to the unborn child's death.


As per an affidavit, Poolaw admitted to using meth and marijuana and tested positive for both drugs when she arrived at Comanche County Memorial Hospital last year after giving birth at home. A toxicology report conducted on the fetus displayed that the brain and liver had tested positive for meth and amphetamine. However, an obstetrician-gynecologist in testimony during the trial confirmed that while methamphetamine use can have an effect on pregnancy, it may not have directly caused the death of the fetus. Additionally, as the NAPW clarified, the medical examiner's report did not identify the use of controlled substances as the cause of the miscarriage.


The group affirmed, "Contrary to all medical science, the prosecutor blamed the miscarriage on Ms. Poolaw's alleged use of controlled substances. Even with this lack of evidence, the prosecutor moved forward with the charge. Ms. Poolaw's case is a tragedy. She has suffered the trauma of pregnancy loss, has been jailed for a year and [a] half during a pandemic, and was charged and convicted of a crime without basis in law or science. We are supporting Ms. Poolaw as she explores her legal options, and we are working to ensure that this type of injustice does not happen again." They added that Poolaw's case was only one in a series of similar cases tried by Oklahoma prosecutors using the law to "police pregnant women and to seek severe penalties for those who experience pregnancy losses."


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