Reproductive justice groups expressed optimism while cautiously welcoming an Ohio grand jury declining to indict a Black woman who was previously facing criminal charges stemming from a pregnancy miscarriage that she suffered.
Brittany Watts, 34, who was charged with abuse of a corpse after she gave birth to a non-viable fetus while using the bathroom in September, learned her fate in the case on Thursday when the grand jury declined to bring an indictment.
I’m overjoyed that the Ohio grand jury refused to indict Brittany Watts on cruel & unjust charges. May this victory bring her peace & inspire us to fight even harder against criminalizing pregnancy and for reproductive justice. https://t.co/3haK86rM25
— Dorothy Roberts (@DorothyERoberts) January 12, 2024
She miscarried at 22 weeks and was accused of trying to flush and then plunge the fetus out of her toilet.
The case was sent to a grand jury in November.
After it was announced that the grand jury declined to indict her, the Associated Press reported that Watts thanked her supporters in front of the courthouse.
“I want to thank my community — Warren. Warren, Ohio,” Watts told a group of more than 100 supporters. “I was born here. I was raised here. I graduated high school here, and I’m going to continue to stay here because I have to continue to fight.”
Reproductive justice groups responded to the lack of charges by drawing attention to the ongoing Black maternal health crisis.
A grand jury has refused to indict a woman who was charged with felony abuse of a corpse after having a miscarriage at her home. Brittany Watts was treated in the hospital, where a nurse called the police after Watts said she had to dispose of the contents of her miscarriage. pic.twitter.com/4pJOiiXwCL
— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) January 12, 2024
Monica Simpson, executive of SisterSong, told NewsOne on Friday that she was “encouraged” by what she called a “positive development for Black women. However, Simpson also said Watts “should have never been put in this position.”
Simpson said Watts was demonized instead of nurtured when she was with child.
“Instead of receiving love and care so she could focus on healing from the trauma of losing a pregnancy, Ms. Watts was forced to fight for her freedom against criminal charges for her loss,” Simpson said in a statement. “She deserves reproductive justice, not the threat of criminalization.”
Simpson also said that just because justice was served in Watts’ case doesn’t mean that will be the case for others in her position.
“And that threat still looms for Black women and women of color, who are more likely to be overpoliced when it comes to abortion bans,” Simpson added. “That is why we must continue to advance Reproductive Justice, to push back on the criminalization of our communities, and to fight for our bodily autonomy. We are sending our best wishes to Ms. Watts.”
Deep exhale. We’re relieved Brittany Watts will NOT be criminalized for having a miscarriage. It’s wild to us that we even have to say something like that, because frfr criminalizing a woman for miscarrying at home shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
— SisterSong: National Women of Color RJ Collective (@SisterSong_WOC) January 11, 2024
Regina Davis Moss, president and
CEO of In Our Own Voice, similarly said she was “relieved” that there was no indictment brought against Watts but also sounded the alarm on the increasing number of places where it’s illegal to have an abortion.
“What happened to Brittany Watts is a grave example of how Black women and their bodies face legal threats simply for existing,” Moss said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “Her story is one that is becoming alarmingly common: in states with abortion restrictions, Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people are being surveilled, arrested, prosecuted and punished for pregnancy loss.”
Moss said Watts’ experience “reveals what so many Black women have to contend with in the medical system. Abortion restrictions directly lead to inadequate reproductive health care, resulting in traumatic pregnancy and birth experiences. Black women deserve to receive timely, comprehensive medical care for a miscarriage without facing criminalization.”
Brittany Watts’ case is a grave example of how Black women’s bodies face legal threats simply for existing. At @BlackWomensRJ we are dedicated to shaping a world where Black women can receive the care they need without fear of criminalization. https://t.co/GA5ZYilGNa
— Regina Davis Moss (@Dr4equity) January 11, 2024
Dr. Marcela Azevedo, president of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, told Reuters that there are hopes the grand jury sets a legal precedent moving forward for similar cases.
“The grand jury’s decision is a firm step against the dangerous trend of criminalizing reproductive outcomes,” Azevedo said in a statement. “This practice must be unequivocally halted. It not only undermines women’s rights but it also threatens public health by instilling fear and hesitation in women seeking necessary medical care.”
Lourdes Rivera, president of Pregnancy Justice, told the Washington Post that race and socioeconomic status play major roles when it comes to cases like Watts’. Rivera specifically referenced the U.S. Supreme Court decision to reverse the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and pave the way for states to ban abortion.
“In this post-Dobbs environment, we expect to see more of this: Where women, pregnant people, people who experience pregnancy loss, are policed and punished,” Rivera said.
While this is excellent news for Brittany Watts, remember that she shouldn’t have been charged in the first place.
It is not a crime to miscarry a child. Today’s decision is a reminder we should not be in the business of punishing folks for making private pregnancy decisions. https://t.co/uzzlfO7Knl
— Rep. Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) January 11, 2024
What exactly happened?
At a preliminary hearing last month, prosecutors and defense attorneys argued about the size and stage of Watts’ fetus and whether the unborn child was alive during the time of her miscarriage.
A Warren County forensic investigator claimed that they felt “a small foot with toes” while examining Watts’ toilet after police were called to the scene. To collect evidence, authorities seized the toilet and were able to retrieve the fetus intact. An autopsy later confirmed that the fetus died in the uterus before passing through Watts’ birth canal. They did not find signs of injury to the fetus.
After Watts miscarried, she reportedly traveled to a hair appointment she had scheduled without first consulting medical officials. Her family did not know she was pregnant.
Let’s be clear—#BrittanyWatts should never have been charged with a felony because of her pregnancy outcome. The criminalization of Black folk who miscarry sets a dangerous tone and poses a threat to the health of ALL Black pregnant folk. pic.twitter.com/WBPAVSM7q0
— The Afiya Center (@TheAfiyaCenter) January 11, 2024
“The issue isn’t how the child died when the child died—it’s the fact that the baby was put into a toilet, large enough to clog up a toilet, left in that toilet and she went on [with] her day,” Warren assistant prosecutor Lewis Guarnieri said during the preliminary hearing.
Watts’ lawyer, Traci Timko, argued her client was probably traumatized by the experience, as she had been admitted to the hospital twice to address vaginal bleeding days before the incident.
A doctor ultimately determined that Watts’ water had broken prematurely and while a fetal heartbeat was still present, they advised her to have her labor induced so that she could avoid serious complications. Medical officials told her that her baby would not survive. On the day of her miscarriage, Watts reportedly waited eight hours to receive care at a hospital because doctors were debating on whether they would be penalized for treating her.
The jury clearly understood the absurdity of criminalizing a woman who miscarried a child for disposing of the corpse. I hope that Brittany Watts finds peace and solace in this result. She never should have had to endure this abuse. https://t.co/XN0rAnDHkh
— Janai Nelson (@JNelsonLDF) January 12, 2024
At the time of Watts’ miscarriage, abortion was legal in Ohio through 21 weeks. Pro-abortion activists say Watts should not have been demonized and charged for something that was completely out of her control.
Prosecutors argued that Watts should be held accountable for the miscarriage due to her leaving the toilet clogged after the incident.
Abuse of a corpse is a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to a year in prison and can result in a $2,500 fine.
This is America.
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