Brittany Poolaw, 21, is convicted of manslaughter following a miscarriage.
Pregnancy advocates and others on social media are outraged after a 21-year-old Oklahoma woman was convicted earlier this month of first-degree manslaughter for having a miscarriage that the prosecutor blamed on her suspected methamphetamine use.
Brittney Poolaw, a member of the Comanche Nation, was sentenced to four years in state prison on October 6 by a jury. On October 15, Poolaw's attorney filed a notice of intent to appeal.
Prosecutors contended that Poolaw's miscarriage was caused by her methamphetamine use. According to the Associated Press, an autopsy of the fetus revealed it tested positive for methamphetamine, but there was no indication that her usage of the narcotic contributed to the miscarriage. According to the AP, the autopsy revealed that the miscarriage could have been caused by a congenital defect and placental abruption, which occurs when the placenta separates from the womb.
However, the state asserted that she had committed manslaughter in the first degree when she was "engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor; in a fit of rage, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or with the use of a dangerous weapon; or when perpetrating unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt has failed."
According to National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), the state's murder and manslaughter statutes do not apply to persons who experience miscarriages, which are classified as pregnancy losses occurring prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
"Even when applied to subsequent losses," NAPW stated, "Oklahoma law bans prosecution of the'mother of the unborn child' unless she commits a 'crime that results in the unborn child's death.'"
According to AP, the fetus was between 15 and 17 weeks old, which means it was not yet viable outside the womb. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, fetuses normally do not have a chance of survival outside the womb until at least 24 weeks of gestation.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, women under the age of 35 have a roughly 15% incidence of miscarriage.
"The case of Ms. Poolaw is tragic," NAPW stated. "She has endured the anguish of miscarriage, has been imprisoned for a year and a half during a pandemic, and has been prosecuted and convicted of a crime that has no legal or scientific basis."
The organization cited a number of policy statements issued by health experts over the years that usually suggest that pregnant women who have drug dependence or addictions should not face criminal penalties, but should instead be treated and cared for.
The American Medical Association stated in 2017 that "transplacental drug transfer should not be subject to criminal or civil liability." "Support is critical for creating and expanding access to specialized treatment programs for drug-addicted pregnant and nursing women."
The National Perinatal Association stated that it is opposed to "any legal procedures" that involve the criminal justice system when a pregnant woman is involved.
"Any law criminalizing substance use during pregnancy is fundamentally discriminatory and works against the goal of improving mother and newborn outcomes," the group stated in 2017. "Criminalization and incarceration are useless and detrimental to the pregnant woman's and infant's health."
The case of Poolaw has aroused outrage on social media, with many condemning the court's judgment.
"October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, yet Brittney Poolaw faces four years in prison for something that occurs in one out of every four pregnancies," one lady tweeted.
"The apocalyptic future about which everyone warns is already here," author Jessica Valenti explained. "Poolaw was pursued by the state because she used drugs – despite the fact that there is no evidence that her pregnancy ended as a result of her drug usage. Criminalizing pregnancy-related activity is a slippery slope: What will come next, arresting women who do not take prenatal vitamins? Or who is drinking a glass of wine?"
And, while Poolaw's story has attracted national attention, the NAPW notes that her situation is not uncommon. According to the NGO, it has documented almost 1,600 instances of pregnancy criminalization. Over 1,200 of these incidents occurred over the last 15 years.
"These cases include pregnant women arrested for falling down stairs, drinking alcohol, giving birth at home, being in a 'hazardous' area, having HIV, struggling with a drug addiction, or trying suicide," the charity tweeted. "The majority of women prosecuted for pregnancy-related offenses are low-income women, women who use drugs, and women of color."