A 21-year-old Oklahoma woman was convicted of first-degree manslaughter after miscarrying her baby last year, sparking an outcry.
Brittney Poolaw, 21, was sentenced to four years in prison after the jury returned a guilty verdict earlier this month, according to ABC affiliate KSWO. An autopsy on Poolaw’s unborn child revealed it had died at 17 weeks.
Prosecutors alleged that Poolaw caused her child to be stillborn due to intravenous methamphetamine use.
Advocates for reproductive rights said Poolaw’s conviction sets a dangerous precedent at a time when abortion rights are under threat—most notably in Texas, where a new law effectively bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.
“For anyone wondering what the ‘endgame’ of abortion bans and restrictions could possibly be—it’s this,” Arpita Appannagari, the policy and partnerships manager at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, tweeted in response to Poolaw’s conviction. “The worst is already happening to Black and brown women across the country.”
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) blasted Poolaw’s conviction as “shameful and dangerous.”
The non-profit said Poolaw sought medical help after experiencing a miscarriage in January last year. In March 2020, she was arrested and charged with first-degree manslaughter. Unable to afford the $20,000 bond, she has been incarcerated since her arrest, the NAPW said.
The group has also alleged that her conviction is not in line with Oklahoma law. “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 NAPW said in a statement on Wednesday.
It adds that the mother cannot be prosecuted for causing a miscarriage later in pregnancy unless a crime was committed that caused the unborn child’s death.
Poolaw, then 19, arrived at Comanche County Memorial Hospital on January 4 last year after giving birth at home, The Lawton Constitution reported last year.
She admitted to using meth and marijuana and tested positive for both drugs, according to an affidavit.
According to the Constitution, the medical examiner’s report listed the unborn child’s cause of death as intrauterine fetal demise due to maternal meth use. A toxicology report on the fetus showed the brain and liver had tested positive for meth and amphetamine.
But during her trial, an OBGYN that testified for the state said that methamphetamine use can have an effect on pregnancy, but may not have directly caused the death of the fetus, KSWO reported.
The NAFW noted that the medical examiner’s report did not identify the use of controlled substances as the cause of the miscarriage.
“Contrary to all medical science, the prosecutor blamed the miscarriage on Ms. Poolaw’s alleged use of controlled substances,” the NAFW said. “Even with this lack of evidence, the prosecutor moved forward with the charge.”
The non-profit said the case was part of a troubling trend of Oklahoma prosecutors using the law to “police pregnant women and to seek severe penalties for those who experience pregnancy losses.”
The NAFW added: “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. We are supporting Ms. Poolaw as she explores her legal options, and we are working to ensure that this type of injustice does not happen again.”