Earlier this month, 21-year old Brittany Poolaw, a member of the Comanche Nation, was tried and convicted of first-degree manslaughter “for having a miscarriage.” Poolaw was sentenced by a jury to four years in a state prison.
The prosecution team alleged that methamphetamine use caused the miscarriage; however, “there was no evidence that her meth use caused the miscarriage, which the autopsy indicated could have been caused by factors including a congenital abnormality and placental abruption, a complication in which the placenta detaches from the womb,” as Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women [(NAPW)], told the Associated Press.
NAPW has called this case a “tragedy” and is supporting Poolaw, helping with potential legal recourses, including appeal assistance, while also continuing to fight against another such reoccurrence of injustice.
In a statement, NAPW said the prosecutor’s claims were “[c]ontrary to all medical science…[and that] Oklahoma’s murder and manslaughter laws do not apply to miscarriages, which are pregnancy losses that occur before 20 weeks, a point in pregnancy before a fetus is viable (able to survive outside of the womb). And, even when applied to later losses, Oklahoma law prohibits prosecution of the ‘mother of the unborn child’ unless she committed ‘a crime that caused the death of the unborn child.’”
Poolaw has been in jail since first being arrested at the age of 19, and bond was set at $20,000. The inability to make this bail payment means that Poolaw has been incarcerated for over 18 months.
“October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month” and this miscarriage of justice has ignited a flurry of social media activity. One such user, Jessica Valenti, tweeted, “Brittney Poolaw will spend 4 years in prison for having a miscarriage. That dystopian future everyone keeps warning about is already here.”
Oklahoma is on a slippery slope with these types of prosecutions that have become increasingly more commonplace over the past several years. From 1973 to 2005, there were 413 criminal prosecutions against women who had lost their pregnancies, and that number increased nearly three-fold to about 1,250 from the years 2006 to 2020. These numbers are especially disturbing when the fact that the majority of these statistics show disproportionate representation by women of color, low-income women, and drug-using women.