Grand Jury Clears African-American Mother, Brittany Watts, in Miscarriage Case, Prompting Reproductive Rights Dialogue

 

In

a significant development, a grand jury in Ohio decided not to indict Brittany Watts, a 34-year-old African American woman, who was facing charges of abusing a corpse after she miscarried at home. The case had garnered national attention and criticism from reproductive rights groups and legal experts who questioned the appropriateness of charging Watts, particularly given the sensitive nature of the circumstances.

Watts, residing in Warren, Ohio, was arrested last October and pleaded not guilty to the charge. The accusations stemmed from her handling of fetal remains after miscarrying her pregnancy at 21 weeks and five days. Had she been convicted, Watts could have faced up to a year in prison.

According to the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office, Watts’ water broke in September, and she sought medical advice at Mercy Health – St. Joseph Warren Hospital. Despite the presence of a fetal heartbeat, doctors recommended induction to prevent a life-threatening infection. Ohio law at the time permitted abortions up to 22 weeks gestation unless the mother’s life was at risk.

The coroner’s report detailed that Watts left the hospital twice against medical advice before delivering the fetus at home over a toilet. She later returned to the hospital, disclosing that she had placed the fetal remains in a black bucket.

According to the report, the fetal remains were discovered wedged in the toilet bowl, prompting the removal of the toilet’s bottom portion for further investigation. Subsequent autopsy results revealed the baby had died due to a spontaneous miscarriage, and no illicit drugs were present.

Watts was arrested on charges of abusing a corpse two weeks later, leading to a contentious legal battle. During a November hearing, her attorneys argued that she had sought medical attention before miscarrying at home. Assistant prosecutor Lewis Guarnieri pushed for the case to proceed, a decision supported by Warren Municipal Court Judge Terry Ivanchak.

Overreach of Legal Power?

Was this an overreach of legal power? Many believe it was. The case sparked discussions about the lack of clear guidelines for handling at-home miscarriages, Black Maternal health, and concerns that authorities may have overreached. Watts’s situation underscores the need for thoughtful consideration of such cases, especially when dealing with the complexities of reproductive health.

The Trumbull County prosecutor, responsible for bringing the case before a judge, emphasized its duty-bound obligation after receiving charges from the city attorney of Warren. Notably, Watts’s case predates Ohio voters passing an amendment in November 2023 to protect abortion rights in the state, thwarting earlier attempts to impose a near-total abortion ban after six weeks.

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