Oklahoma woman charged with first degree manslaughter after miscarriage
- An autopsy of Brittney Poolaw's on the unborn child revealed it had died at 17 weeks gestation
- The 21-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison
- National Advocates for Pregnant Women opposed the conviction
An Oklahoma woman has been found guilty of first-degree manslaughter after she suffered a miscarriage last year. The 21-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison, according to local ABC affiliate KSWO.
An autopsy of Brittney Poolaw's on the unborn child revealed it had died at 17 weeks gestation. The prosecutors blamed the Poolaw's miscarriage on her drug use. However, the mother's advocates including the National Advocates for Pregnant Women opposed the conviction saying there was no evidence that controlled substances directly caused the miscarriage.
"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.
As per KSWO, Poolaw had tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine and another undisclosed drug.
An obstetrician, who was called to testify in court, said that although methamphetamine use can impact a pregnancy, it may not have been the direct cause of death. Additionally, both a nurse and a medical examiner testified as to seeing congenital abnormalities in the fetus.
In October last year, as per Lawton Constitution, Poolaw was accused of causing her child to be stillborn on January 4, 2020, due to her intravenous methamphetamine use. An affidavit stated that the woman, who was 19 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.
What does the law say?
Under Oklahoma law, an unborn child is defined as a human being, enabling it to be a victim of homicide.
It further adds that homicide does not include instances of legal abortion or death that occurs during normal medical, therapeutic, or diagnostic testing
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“Under no circumstances shall the mother of the unborn child be prosecuted for causing the death of the unborn child unless the mother has committed a crime that caused the death of the unborn child.”
Hence, a mother cannot be prosecuted for causing the death of their unborn child "unless the mother committed a crime" that caused its death.
A toxicology report on the fetus showed the brain and liver had tested positive for meth and amphetamine. The medical examiner's report, as per the Constitution, listed the unborn child's cause of death as intrauterine fetal demise due to maternal meth use
An OBGYN that testified for the state said that controlled substances may not have directly caused of death for the fetus, per KSWO.
"Not even the medical examiner's report identifies use of controlled substances as the cause of the miscarriage," the NAPW said in the statement.
"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 half during a pandemic, and was charged and convicted of a crime without basis in law or science," the organisation added.
A $20,000 bond was set for Poolaw, who has been in jail since she was first arrested, as per the NAPW.