Ohio woman criminalized after miscarriage avoids indictment

Warren, Ohio - An Ohio woman who faced a charge of abusing a corpse after she suffered a miscarriage will not be criminally indicted, a grand jury decided Thursday.

Brittany Watts, from Warren, Ohio, will not be indicted after facing charges following a miscarriage.
Brittany Watts, from Warren, Ohio, will not be indicted after facing charges following a miscarriage.  © Collage: 123RF/bsaje & Instagram/daddysgirl1017

The unusual case, which sparked an outcry amid a nationwide row over abortion rights, began when Brittany Watts (34) had a miscarriage at home in September last year.

Watts was 21 weeks and 5 days pregnant when she first went to St. Joseph Warren Hospital in Ohio to report bleeding, The New York Times reported, citing the coroner's report.

Doctors found her water had broken prematurely and that she was at significant risk of maternal death. Cardiac activity was detected, but the fetus was declared non-viable and she was told that inducing labor was needed for her safety, according to media reports.

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However, the emergency procedure faced delays as the hospital ethics board conferred over the legality of induction, because her pregnancy was on the cusp of Ohio's then 22-week abortion limit.

According to the coroner's report, Watts then went home without treatment to "process the information she was told." She returned the next day and again left without treatment, media reported.

Grand jury declines to indict Brittany Watts

Abortion rights supporters celebrate winning the referendum on Issue 1, a measure to enshrine a right to abortion in Ohio's Constitution, on November 7, 2023.
Abortion rights supporters celebrate winning the referendum on Issue 1, a measure to enshrine a right to abortion in Ohio's Constitution, on November 7, 2023.  © MEGAN JELINGER / AFP

On September 22, she experienced a miscarriage at home, passing the fetus in her bathroom.

Police found the fetus inside the toilet, which was blocked. The coroner's report determined that the fetus had died in utero – before delivery – due to complications from Watts's water breaking prematurely.

Watts was subsequently arrested and charged under Ohio state law that says it is illegal to handle a human corpse in a "way that the person knows would outrage reasonable family sensibilities" or "community sensibilities."

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She would have faced punishment of up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine if convicted.

On Thursday, a grand jury decided there was not enough evidence for a felony indictment, according to the Trumbull County prosecutor.

The case had sparked outrage as activists said Watts was being targeted partly because she was Black and partly because of the broader push for ever-more restrictive rules on abortion access in much of the United States.

Abortion rights activists celebrated the grand jury decision.

"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," advocacy group The Afiya Center posted on social media site X.

A month after Watts's arrest, residents of Ohio voted to enshrine the right to an abortion in the Republican-run state's constitution.

Cover photo: Collage: 123RF/bsaje & Instagram/daddysgirl1017

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