The prosecutor blamed Poolaw’s use of methamphetamine for causing the loss of the fetus.
Earlier this month, an Oklahoma jury convicted Brittney Poolaw, a 21-year-old member of the Comanche Nation, of first degree manslaughter after suffering a miscarriage, which the prosecution blamed on her use of methamphetamine. Sentenced on Oct. 6, Poolaw, who was only 19 at the time of the miscarriage, received the sentence of four years of jail time in state prison. Poolaw’s conviction has sparked much controversy on social media, garnering support and donations from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, who has now come to the defense of Poolaw.
Per the medical examiner’s reports, Poolaw was between 15-17 weeks pregnant at the time of her miscarriage, meaning that the fetus had not yet reached viability—the stage at which a fetus can live independently from its mother’s uterus. In the United States, viability does not occur until the fetus reaches 24 weeks of gestational age.
According to the Comanche County District Attorney’s Office, Poolaw’s use of methamphetamine caused the loss of the fetus. Poolaw’s defense said that there is no way to know for certain that her drug use caused the miscarriage. The medical examiner for the case publicly noted the abnormalities present within the fetus; despite these claims, the jury reached their verdict for this case in less than three hours.
Though an autopsy of the fetus showed that it tested positive for the drug, Associated Press, who received a copy of the autopsy report, claims that there is no definitive proof that Poolaw’s drug use caused her miscarriage; AP says that the autopsy shows the miscarriage could have potentially been caused by a congenital abnormality, placental abruption and chorioamnionitis—all of which was also pointed out at Poolaw’s one-day trial by her lawyers.
The state of Oklahoma alleges that Poolaw violated the state’s manslaughter statute, which defines manslaughter as “When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.” Poolaw’s attorney filed for an appeal on Oct. 15.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women says that Poolaw’s case is not uncommon. NAPW has documented over 1,600 cases similarly involving the criminalization of a pregnant individual. 57 of these 1,600 cases have occurred in the state of Oklahoma since 2006. In a viral tweet, NAPW said “These cases include pregnant women who have been arrested for falling down stairs, drinking alcohol, giving birth at home, being in a ‘dangerous’ location, having HIV, experiencing a drug dependency problem or attempting suicide. The majority of women subjected to pregnancy-based prosecutions are low-income women, drug-using women, and women of color.”
NAPW has now come to the aid of Poolaw, providing her a new lawyer for her appeal case, rather than the court-appointed attorney from her trial. Her appeal date has not yet been set.