Woman Receives Criminal Charges After Miscarrying

During her first prenatal appointment, 21-week-and-5-day-pregnant Brittany Watts of Ohio had a terrifying three days after passing heavy blood clots. To terminate the pregnancy and remove the unviable fetus, the doctor recommended inducing labor.

The fifth-degree felony charge of mistreatment of a body, which Watts faced, carries a fine of $2,500 and a possible jail sentence of one year. Last month, her case was referred to a grand jury, which ignited a nationwide discussion over the handling of pregnant women, particularly Black women, after the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Despite having comparable situations, Black women whose prenatal care took place in hospitals were ten times more likely to be contacted by child protective services and law enforcement than white women.

Watts’ miscarriage occurred at the period when abortion was permitted in Ohio up to the 21st week and six days of gestation. According to Traci Timko, Watts’s lawyer, her client left the hospital on Wednesday, the same day that her pregnancy was confirmed. Case Western Reserve University School of Law professor B. Jessie Hill indicated that Mercy Health-St. Joseph’s was in a bind, but the hospital did not respond to calls seeking comment or confirmation.

According to Grace Howard, an associate professor of justice studies at San José State University, pregnant women such as Watts have been more often accused of “crimes against their pregnancies” after Dobbs. Due to the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, it is no longer possible to charge someone with a felony for accidentally hurting a pregnancy. Even when their situations were the same, research shows that child protective services and law police were ten times more likely to visit pregnant women of color who went to hospitals for treatment than white women.

Howard maintains that we see a return to the Wild West after Dobbs, as prosecutors and district attorneys strive to demonstrate their vigilance by prosecuting women who disobey the ethos promulgated by the state government. On the other hand, she says, criminal responsibility results from Dobbs, which has made healthcare practitioners cautious. In Watts’s case, the dimensions and developmental stage of her unborn child—discovered stuck in the pipes after her discharge from the hospital—are at issue.

Although the child assault protection section of the county is spearheading the investigation, a grand jury verdict is not anticipated this month.