A Black Woman Faced Charges After Miscarriage, Highlighting Post-Roe Pregnancy Risks

by Chloe Baker
Post-Roe miscarriage legal issues

In the midst of a heated debate on abortion rights in Ohio, Brittany Watts, who was 21 weeks and 5 days into her pregnancy, experienced severe bleeding due to blood clots. Watts, 33, had kept her pregnancy a secret, even from her family, and only sought medical advice at Mercy Health-St. Joseph’s Hospital in Warren, a city located 60 miles southeast of Cleveland.

During her initial prenatal check-up, the doctor discovered that although there was still a fetal heartbeat, Watts’ amniotic fluid had prematurely ruptured, and the fetus was not viable. The doctor recommended hospitalization to induce labor, essentially an abortion procedure to deliver the nonviable fetus, warning of a substantial risk to Watts’ life otherwise.

The subsequent three days were tumultuous for Watts. She made several hospital visits and eventually miscarried at home, leading to a police investigation into her actions of disposing of the fetus in a toilet. Watts, a Black woman, was charged with corpse abuse, a fifth-degree felony.

Her case was brought before a grand jury last week, sparking national outrage over the treatment of pregnant women, particularly Black women, in the post-Roe era. Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump brought attention to Watts’ situation on social media, leading to over $100,000 in donations for her legal and medical expenses.

The debate intensifies on whether women seeking abortions should be criminally charged, especially after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade. According to Grace Howard, a professor at San José State University, the absence of Roe removes a legal barrier against charging women with felonies for unintentional harm to their pregnancies. Michele Goodwin, a law professor, highlights that these legal actions disproportionately target Black and brown women, a trend that has intensified post-Dobbs.

Before Roe’s overturn, studies indicated Black women were disproportionately reported to authorities during prenatal visits. Goodwin describes the current situation as a “wild, wild West,” with prosecutors eagerly enforcing new legal boundaries.

Watts’ miscarriage coincided with her reaching the legal abortion limit in Ohio. Her lawyer, Traci Timko, suggests that hospital officials hesitated to treat her due to legal uncertainties. This delay occurred amidst a state-wide campaign over a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion rights in Ohio.

Watts left the hospital untreated twice due to bleeding. A nurse later reported to authorities that Watts returned without being pregnant, claiming the fetus was in a bucket in her backyard. Timko argues that Watts was traumatized and did not intend to express that she did not want the pregnancy. The fetus was later found by police in Watts’ toilet.

Assistant Prosecutor Lewis Guarnieri emphasized in court the manner in which the fetus was disposed of, while Watts’ lawyer contested this view, highlighting Watts’ trauma and grief.

Assistant Trumbull County Prosecutor Diane Barber, leading Watts’ case, noted the complexity of the situation and the lack of clarity in Ohio’s abuse-of-corpse statute.

The case’s intricacies were evident in the preliminary hearing, with discussions on the legal status of the fetus and the ambiguity of the term “corpse” in the law. The case raises significant questions about the rights and legal responsibilities of pregnant individuals, especially in the context of miscarriages and the absence of Roe v. Wade.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Post-Roe miscarriage legal issues

Q: What is the background of Brittany Watts’ case in Ohio?

A: Brittany Watts, a 33-year-old Black woman, faced a legal ordeal in Ohio after experiencing a miscarriage. She was charged with abuse of a corpse, a fifth-degree felony, following a harrowing three days involving hospital visits and miscarriage at home.

Q: What prompted the charges against Brittany Watts?

A: The charges arose because Brittany Watts miscarried at home and disposed of the fetus in her toilet. Her case raised questions about the legal implications of miscarriages in the post-Roe era.

Q: How does the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision relate to this case?

A: The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade, removing legal barriers against charging women with felonies for unintentional harm to their pregnancies, as seen in Brittany Watts’ case.

Q: What is the broader impact of this case on women’s rights?

A: This case has sparked a national debate about the treatment of pregnant women, especially women of color, in the absence of Roe v. Wade. It highlights concerns about potential criminalization of pregnancy-related issues.

Q: What are the key legal and ethical questions surrounding this case?

A: Key questions include defining the legal status of the fetus, the interpretation of abuse-of-corpse statutes, and the balance between maternal rights and potential criminal liability in the context of miscarriages.

More about Post-Roe miscarriage legal issues

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FactChecker99 December 17, 2023 - 12:29 am

Important article on a complex issue. Let’s hope for fair justice in Brittany Watts’ case.

SeriousJournalist1 December 17, 2023 - 4:25 am

The case shows probs in the legal system post-Roe. It’s a debate that needs attention, especially 4 black women.


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