A 21-year-old woman in Oklahoma has been found guilty of first-degree manslaughter after having a miscarriage in 2020.
Brittney Poolaw was sentenced to four years in prison for her 2020 miscarriage on October 5.
An autopsy on the fetus revealed it had died at 17 weeks gestation. Prosecutors on the case blamed Poolaw’s miscarriage on her drug use. But some advocates for the mother, such as the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, have argued that her conviction is not lawful.
“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),” said the NAPW, a non-profit advocacy organization, in a statement on Wednesday.
Per the law, a mother cannot be prosecuted for causing the death of their unborn child “unless the mother committed a crime” that caused its death. And in Oct. 2020, the Lawton Constitution reported that Poolaw was accused of causing her child to be stillborn on Jan. 4, 2020, due to her intravenous methamphetamine use.
An affidavit said the woman, who was just 19-years-old at the time, was taken to Comanche County Memorial Hospital after she reportedly gave birth at home. Poolaw later admitted to medical staff she had consumed meth and marijuana and tested positive for both.
The medical examiner’s report listed the unborn child’s cause of death as intrauterine fetal demise due to maternal meth use. And a toxicology report on the fetus showed the brain and liver had tested positive for meth and amphetamine.
But at the trial, an OBGYN that testified for the state said that controlled substances may not have directly caused of death for the fetus. The NAPW also pushed how Poolaw’s miscarriage on her use of controlled substances is “contrary to all medical science.”
“Not even the medical examiner’s report identifies use of controlled substances as the cause of the miscarriage,” the organization said in the statement. “Even with this lack of evidence, the prosecutor moved forward with the charge.”
A $20,000 bond was set for Poolaw, who has been in jail since she was first arrested. The NAPW calls her case “a tragedy.”
“This use of prosecutorial discretion directly conflicts with the recommendations of every major medical organization, including the American Academy of Pediatrics,” the non-profit said, “all of which know that such prosecutions actually increase risks of harm to maternal and child health.”
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