Young Oklahoma Woman Who Miscarried Her Baby Charged With First-degree Manslaughter

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A group advocating for women has cried foul over the sentencing of a 21-year-old to four years in prison following her manslaughter conviction. Brittney Poolaw was convicted by a jury who believed that she intentionally miscarried her baby by taking methamphetamine, an illegal and addictive substance.

According to reports, the autopsy of the fetus showed that it was positive for the substance, but there was no other evidence indicating that methamphetamine was the actual cause of the miscarriage.

Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) said that the autopsy also showed other complications in Poolaw's pregnancy, including placental abruption and congenital abnormality. She was 15 to 17 weeks pregnant when she lost the baby.

The advocate said that even the medical examiner's report did not indicate that methamphetamine led to the baby's death. If Poolaw's pregnancy were to continue to term, she would likely suffer from stillbirth because of the fetus' viability.

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State Firm on Manslaughter Charges

Oklahoma has a law that prosecutes a mother who "caused the death of the unborn child." The state has been firm in its stand that Poolaw violated the manslaughter statute, especially because she was drug dependent. However, those who side with Poolaw said that the statute does not apply to a miscarriage, defined as a pregnancy loss occurring before the 20th week of gestation when the fetus is not viable.

Poolaw had her miscarriage at home in early January 2020 and then went to Comanche County Memorial Hospital. She admitted to the staff that she was taking meth and marijuana.

The young woman has been serving her prison time for the last year and a half as her case went to trial during the pandemic. The NAPW said in another statement that the sentencing of the 21-year-old was both "shameful and dangerous" because the state prosecutors failed to look at the science surrounding her miscarriage. 

The National Perinatal Association also criticized Poolaw's imprisonment while pregnant and dealing with substance abuse problems. The advocacy group does not support statutes that criminalize drug addiction when the goal, especially for a young mom, is to help her improve the "maternal and neonatal outcomes" of her pregnancy. The group also believes that Poolaw's imprisonment was harmful and ineffective to her health and the baby's condition.

National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Poolaw's case comes as the nation highlights National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month this October. The advocates said that what happened to her serves as a warning on how some governments treat women. They likened the situation to a "dystopian future" where pregnant moms could soon be arrested for having a glass of wine or failing to take their prenatal vitamins.

The NAPW said that harsh laws against women are not unusual as there are currently over 1,600 criminal cases tied to pregnancy or miscarriage. Some of these cases have been in court for more than 15 years. Aside from drug use, pregnant women have been charged in court for attempting suicide, contracting HIV, giving birth at home, or living in a dangerous location. Most of these are women of color who belong to low-income households.

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