Brittney Poolaw has been sitting in an Oklahoma jail for greater than a yr and a half. She’s going to spend nonetheless extra time behind bars, having been just lately convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 4 years in jail for miscarrying her baby final yr.
In Could 2020, Poolaw, then a teen, arrived at a neighborhood hospital after dropping the fetus at 17 weeks. She was quickly transferred to a cell and charged with the felony, on the speculation that drug abuse had led to the fetus’ demise.
At trial, the veracity of that declare was unsure, with an knowledgeable witness for the prosecution testifying that Poolaw’s drug use might not have been a direct reason for demise. An post-mortem concluded that the unborn baby had examined optimistic for methamphetamine and amphetamine—nevertheless it additionally discovered a congenital abnormality, placental abruption, and chorioamnionitis, an an infection related to “maternal, perinatal, and long-term adversarial outcomes,” together with stillbirth.
In different phrases, it is fully attainable that Poolaw’s miscarriage had nothing to do along with her conduct. “No knowledgeable at trial acknowledged that her drug use brought on the miscarriage,” says Dana Sussman, deputy government director for the Nationwide Advocates for Pregnant Girls. “It is a confounding case on many ranges.”
Maybe most complicated is how precisely Poolaw’s prosecution matches with the state’s present abortion legal guidelines, which permit girls to terminate a being pregnant prior to twenty weeks’ gestation. Although Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a invoice in April that may outlaw abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, it was not slated to take impact till November 1 and has been quickly blocked by the courts. Poolaw’s being pregnant ended nicely earlier than that.
And Poolaw wasn’t even searching for an abortion: She had a miscarriage, probably via no fault of her personal, and she’s going to now undergo a barrage of authorized penalties not skilled by Oklahoma girls who ask docs to terminate their pregnancies.
“Final yr, the Oklahoma Supreme Court docket dominated that legal legal guidelines could be utilized to pregnant girls within the context of kid abuse and baby neglect, and due to this fact by extension manslaughter and homicide, when the hurt is felt by a viable fetus,” says Sussman. (Viability is often understood to start at 24 weeks.) As a authorized matter, Poolaw’s conviction and sentence go in opposition to the inspiration of how the U.S. approaches such points.
I am much less within the authorized argument, although, than in contemplating the deleterious results of holding girls criminally accountable after they lose a being pregnant. Such an method, I imagine, will not be the truth is “pro-life.”
It ought to go with out saying that taking meth will not be a good suggestion. Doing so whereas pregnant is doubly irresponsible and reckless. However placing girls on trial for poor decisions that inadvertently hurt their fetuses is the type of slippery slope that can each punish undeserving folks and hurt the long-term well being of girls and infants.
That is not a hypothetical. Sussman notes there are a number of comparable prosecutions coming down the pipeline, and Poolaw’s was under no circumstances the primary. There was Marshae Jones, an Alabama girl who in 2019 misplaced her baby after she was shot within the abdomen. The state alleged that she began the battle, which then led to her being shot, which then led to her dropping her fetus. “Even when Jones did provoke the altercation, it doesn’t comply with that she knew or ought to have identified her opponent was armed or that her opponent would use deadly pressure in response,” wrote Cause‘s Elizabeth Nolan Brown on the time. “Loads of folks—even generally pregnant girls—get in altercations that do not finish with anybody taking pictures anybody else.”
Nonetheless extra perplexing is that this problem of inviting hurt, and the place the state decides to attract the road. Ingesting alcohol in sure portions throughout sure elements of being pregnant is usually related to elevated probability of miscarriage, however the place precisely the lethal threshold is stays mired in uncertainty. Ought to a struggling alcoholic go to jail for perhaps inflicting the demise of her fetus? Folks have complicated issues, and addictions aren’t simply solved by throwing somebody in jail for a number of years.
“Each single medical and public well being affiliation or group on this nation [has] condemned the usage of legal legal guidelines to deal with drug use and being pregnant,” provides Sussman. “It sends a message that they need to keep away from prenatal care, that they shouldn’t be trustworthy with their docs, not attempt to get the assistance that they want, and places them in a very troublesome place to have wholesome pregnancies.” Poolaw confirmed up at a hospital of her personal free will. Prosecutions like this make it much less seemingly that others in her state of affairs will do the identical.
Get an abortion and you will keep free, the state implies. However for those who present up at a hospital for assist throughout or after a miscarriage, we would imprison you for years. No matter this technique is, it isn’t pro-life.