Oklahoma Woman Found Guilty of 1st-Degree Manslaughter After Suffering a Miscarriage

Prosecutors on the case blamed the woman's miscarriage on her drug use, but some advocates argue that the conviction is not in line with the law

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A 21-year-old woman in Oklahoma has been found guilty of first-degree manslaughter after suffering a miscarriage last year.

On Oct. 5, Brittney Poolaw was sentenced to four years in prison for her 2020 miscarriage, according to local ABC affiliate KSWO. An autopsy on the unborn child revealed it had died at 17 weeks gestation.

Prosecutors on the case blamed Poolaw's miscarriage on her drug use. However, some advocates for the mother, such as the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, have argued that her conviction is not in line with the law.

"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)," said the NAPW, a non-profit advocacy organization, in a statement on Wednesday.

Under the law, a mother cannot be prosecuted for causing the death of their unborn child "unless the mother committed a crime" that caused its death.

In Oct. 2020, the Lawton Constitution reported that Poolaw was accused of causing her child to be stillborn on Jan. 4, 2020, due to her intravenous methamphetamine use.

An affidavit said the woman, who was 19 at the time, was taken to Comanche County Memorial Hospital after she reportedly gave birth at home, per the report. Poolaw later admitted to medical staff she had consumed meth and marijuana and tested positive for both.

The medical examiner's report listed the unborn child's cause of death as intrauterine fetal demise due to maternal meth use, the Constitution reported. A toxicology report on the fetus showed the brain and liver had tested positive for meth and amphetamine.

At trial, however, an OBGYN that testified for the state said that controlled substances may not have directly caused of death for the fetus, per KSWO.

The NAPW also argued that blaming Poolaw's miscarriage on her use of controlled substances is "contrary to all medical science."

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"Not even the medical examiner's report identifies use of controlled substances as the cause of the miscarriage," the organization said in the statement. "Even with this lack of evidence, the prosecutor moved forward with the charge."

A $20,000 bond was set for Poolaw, who has been in jail since she was first arrested, per the NAPW, which calls her case "a tragedy."

"This use of prosecutorial discretion directly conflicts with the recommendations of every major medical organization, including the American Academy of Pediatrics," the non-profit said, "all of which know that such prosecutions actually increase risks of harm to maternal and child health."

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