An Oklahoma woman has been sentenced to four years in prison after suffering a miscarriage when she was 17 weeks pregnant.
Brittney Poolaw was found guilty this month of first-degree manslaughter for the miscarriage she experienced last year, after which she admitted to medical staff she had consumed methamphetamine and marijuana.
Poolaw, who was 19 at the time of the miscarriage, was taken to Comanche County Memorial Hospital in January 2020 after she reportedly gave birth at home. An autopsy later revealed the foetus had been 17 weeks old at the time.
In October 2020, Poolaw was reportedly accused of causing her child to be stillborn due to her use of intravenous methamphetamine. According to the Lawton Constitution, a report from the medical examiner listed the unborn child’s cause of death as intrauterine foetal demise due to maternal meth use, People reports.
A toxicology report revealed the foetus tested positive for meth and amphetamine, though an OBGYN who testified for the state said controlled substances may not have directly caused the death of the foetus.
Advocates for the now-21-year-old woman have argued her conviction is not in line with the law, with non-profit organisation the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) commenting: ‘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).’
The law states a mother cannot be prosecuted for causing the death of their unborn child ‘unless the mother committed a crime’ that caused its death, People reports.
In a statement commenting on the ruling, the NAPW argued that blaming Poolaw’s miscarriage on her use of controlled substances is ‘contrary to all medical science’.
The organisation said:
Not even the medical examiner’s report identifies use of controlled substances as the cause of the miscarriage. Even with this lack of evidence, the prosecutor moved forward with the charge.
This use of prosecutorial discretion directly conflicts with the recommendations of every major medical organization, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, all of which know that such prosecutions actually increase risks of harm to maternal and child health.
Arpita Appannagari, the policy and partnerships manager at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, also commented on Poolaw’s conviction, saying: ‘For anyone wondering what the ‘endgame’ of abortion bans and restrictions could possibly be – it’s this. The worst is already happening to Black and brown women across the country.’
Poolaw has remained in jail since she was first arrested in March 2020 as she could not afford the $20,000 bond.
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