Ohio woman cleared of criminal charges following miscarriage, case highlights ongoing legal challenges for pregnant women in US

People protesting against Abortion law in the US | Credits: AP Photo
People protesting against Abortion law in the US | Credits: AP Photo

United States: An Ohio woman who miscarried and left the nonviable fetus at home will not face criminal charges, a grand jury said on Thursday, dismissing a case that emphasized the degree to which women can be prosecuted when their pregnancy ends, whether through abortion or miscarriage.

Felony Case Initiated by Warren Police

The Warren Police Department filed the felony case after receiving guidance from the Warren City Prosecutor’s Office, according to Trumbull County Prosecuting Attorney Dennis Watkins’ news release. According to Watkins, a municipal judge then referred the case to a Trumbull County grand jury. He stated that his office “never assessed the evidence or advised as to charging” Watts. Grand Jury’s decision will determine whether Watts should be indicted and stand trial, the release said.

According to the Trumbull County court records, Brittany Watts, 34, of Warren, was charged last year with felony mistreatment of a corpse. 

Watts went to the hospital with significant bleeding in the days leading up to her September miscarriage and was told her fetus was not viable, as per the coroner’s report. The medical personnel alerted the Warren Police Department, which responded to Watts’ residence.

On Thursday, that grand jury returned a “no bill” for the charge, concluding insufficient evidence for an indictment against Watts, according to the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office.

Watkins stated that his agency does not feel Watts broke the law, adding, “We respectfully disagree with the lower court’s application of the law.”

“(This office took) some criticism and vicious personal attacks by the few who didn’t understand that a reasonable amount of time was needed to do our duties and misreported that we were seeking an indictment in this case,” Watkins stated in a press release.

Prosecutors’ Comment

CNN has contacted the Warren City Prosecutor’s Office for comment. Assistant prosecutor Lewis Guarnieri stated in a November preliminary hearing that the issue was not how or when the kid died but rather “the fact that the baby was put into a toilet, large enough to clog the toilet, left in that toilet, and (Watts) went on her day,” according to WKBN footage.

Watts’ attorney, Traci Timko, told CNN on Thursday that the accusation was not supported by Ohio law and that Watts was being “demonized for something that happens in the privacy of (women’s) homes on a regular basis.”

“While the last three months have been agonizing, we are incredibly grateful and relieved that Justice was handed down by the grand jury today,” he added. “To the innumerable women who contacted out to share their own heartbreaking stories of pregnancy loss, Brittany read every one of them and felt a bond with each of you. The emails, letters, phone calls, donations, and prayers all helped to empower and sustain her throughout the day.”

Legal Ambiguities and Challenges Persist

Due to new limits or bans on abortion, as per the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the federal right to abortion.

As a result, some women carrying fetuses with fatal defects are unable to obtain abortions in their native states. Other women with potentially life-threatening pregnancies have also been denied abortions due to ambiguous medical exemption clauses and medical practitioners’ fear of serious legal ramifications.

When asked if the charge against Watts was impacted by the repeal of Roe v. Wade, her attorney earlier told CNN that ignorance was the primary issue.

“I believe that this charge stems from the lack of knowledge and insight that men have regarding the realities of miscarriage and women’s health in general,” Timko told CNN at the time.