COMANCHE COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – The recent miscarriage manslaughter conviction of an Oklahoma woman is now at the center of a national debate.
Court records show then-19-year-old Brittany Poolaw of Lawton suffered a miscarriage on January 4, 2020, and was subsequently taken to Comanche County Memorial Hospital for treatment.
According to the arrest affidavit, Brittany gave birth to a stillborn baby during her second trimester.
The report also indicated that she had not received any prenatal care during her pregnancy, and admitted to using methamphetamine and marijuana to medical personnel who treated her.
Following an interview with police in March, Poolaw was charged with first-degree manslaughter, then convicted in October 2021 and sentenced to four years in prison.
An advocate closely following MS. Poolaw’s conviction told KFOR they were concerned about the rapid acceleration of criminalization in issues involving pregnant women.
“What we’ve been tracking, particularly in Oklahoma, is a sharp increase in arrests of pregnant women,” said Dana Sussman, Acting Executive Director at National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW).
The organization “works to secure the human and civil rights, health and welfare of all people, focusing particularly on pregnant and parenting women, and those who are most likely to be targeted for state control and punishment — low income women, women of color, and drug-using women,” according to its mission statement.
“[It’s something] that we are incredibly concerned about, particularly as we look at Roe and Casey being overturned,” she added, citing other cases in which a miscarriage or stillbirth is being charged as manslaughter.
“We are now aware of two other cases out of the same county in which the prosecutor is prosecuting women for their pregnancy losses and blaming them for their pregnancy losses based on absolutely no medical science to back it up,” she continued, citing one case in particular in which there was medical support proven for the legal theory (for the charge to withstand).
KFOR obtained a copy of the autopsy report; it mentions meth use, but the actual cause of death is attributed to intrauterine fetal demise, the clinical term for stillbirth.
“The idea that someone could cause their own pregnancy loss is just not founded in science,” stated Sussman, adding that many pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth.
“[Women] criminalized for miscarriage are separated from their families, forced to endure the trauma of a pregnancy loss and then being blamed for that loss, and criminalized for that loss,” she added.
She told KFOR the current case outcomes in Oklahoma, including Poolaw’s case and others, could have a chilling effect on pregnancy outcomes across the state moving forward.
“Women will be scared to seek care, they will be scared to be honest with their providers,” she said.
Many believe Poolaw’s case, and others, could lead to a precedent for the future, and may hurt pregnancy outcomes across the state, moving forward.
“Using the criminal legal system to force them to get care or force them into treatment is not the answer,” she said.