Brittney Poolaw: Outrage after woman convicted of manslaughter for miscarriage

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA: Pregnancy advocates and numerous social media outlets have expressed outrage after a 21-year-old woman was convicted of manslaughter guilty of miscarriage, which the prosecutor blamed on his suspected use of methamphetamine. Brittney Poolaw, of Lawton, was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month on October 6 after a jury found her guilty of first degree manslaughter. Poolaw’s lawyer filed a notice of intention to appeal on October 15.

According to New York Times, Poolaw, a member of the Comanche Nation, presented to Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Oklahoma last year after having miscarried at home. She was about 17 weeks pregnant. According to an affidavit from a police detective who interviewed her, she admitted to hospital staff that she had recently used both methamphetamine and marijuana.


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Brittney Poolaw (Twitter / @ NahanniFontaine)

The Times report says a medical examiner cited her drug use as one of many “contributing conditions” to miscarriage – the list also included a birth defect and placental abruption. The Associated press reported that an autopsy of Poolaw’s fetus showed him to be methamphetamine positive. But there was no evidence that her methamphetamine use caused the miscarriage, which, according to the autopsy, could have been caused by other factors.

Poolaw was arrested for first degree manslaughter and because she could not afford a $ 20,000 bond, jailed for a year and a half pending trial. During the trial, an expert prosecution witness said methamphetamine use may not have been directly responsible for the death of Poolaw’s fetus.

However, after deliberating for less than three hours, a jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to four years in prison. However, from the detective’s affidavit, it seems possible that Poolaw’s whole ordeal could have been avoided had she had access to better reproductive health care. Poolaw, the detective wrote, said that “when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t know whether she wanted the baby or not. She said she didn’t know how or where to have an abortion.

Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said: “This lawsuit was brought against someone who suffered a miscarriage before the fetus was considered viable. In this case, you not only have a miscarriage rather than a stillbirth early in the pregnancy, but the medical examiner’s report doesn’t even claim that methamphetamine was the cause.

The NAPW released a statement saying, “Oklahoma 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 the womb). And, even when it applies to subsequent losses, Oklahoma law prohibits the prosecution of the “mother of the unborn child” unless she has committed “a crime which caused death. of the unborn child ”.

“Ms. Poolaw’s case is a tragedy,” NAPW said. “She suffered the trauma of the loss of pregnancy, was jailed for a year and a half during a pandemic, and was charged and convicted of a crime without legal or scientific basis.”

Last year, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that embryos and fetuses are included in the definition of a “child” for the purposes of prosecuting child neglect cases. Fetuses generally have no chance of surviving outside the womb until at least 24 weeks gestation, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Women under 35 have about a 15% chance of miscarriage, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

“Transplacental drug transfer should not be subject to criminal penalties or liability,” said the American Medical Association noted in 2017. “In particular, support is crucial to establish and make widely available specialized treatment programs for pregnant and breastfeeding women with drug abuse, to the extent possible.

“Any law that criminalizes substance use during pregnancy is inherently discriminatory in addition to being counterproductive to the goal of improving maternal and newborn outcomes,” the association said in 2017. “Criminalization and incarceration are ineffective and harmful to the health of the pregnant person and their child. “

On Twitter, many showed their support for Poolaw. “We have to organize ourselves to support Brittney Poolaw. The criminalization of drug addiction, miscarriages and other medical problems is systematically exploited against Indigenous women and other women of color, ”one tweet read. Another tweet said: “The women prosecuted in these cases are disproportionately women of color, who often have higher rates of miscarriages and stillbirths to begin with. Poolaw’s fetus had a birth defect and she was suffering from placental abruption and chorioamnionitis at the time of her miscarriage. One person said, “Brittney Poolaw deserves the healing of this trauma, * not * a punishment. “

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