A 21-year-old woman was convicted of first-degree manslaughter on Oct. 6 after a second-trimester miscarriage in Oklahoma. Brittney Marie Poolaw was sentenced to 4 years in prison after less than three hours of jury deliberation, according to local media.
Poolaw experienced a miscarriage on Jan. 4, 2020, when the fetus was born stillborn at home after 15-17 weeks of gestation, according to the autopsy. (ABC affiliate KSWO has referred to the fetus as an infant child.) The medical examiner confirmed fetal congenital abnormalities as well as positive results for methamphetamine and amphetamine.
Poolaw couldn’t afford her bail and spent more than a year in custody awaiting trial delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Woman released a statement in support of Poolaw. “Ms. Poolaw’s case is a tragedy. She has suffered the trauma of pregnancy loss, has been jailed for a year and half during a pandemic, and was charged and convicted of a crime without basis in law or science,” the statement read in part.
Poolaw is one person in a “troubling trend” in Oklahoma, according to NAPW. “In recent years, Oklahoma prosecutors, especially in Comanche and Kay Counties but also in Craig, Garfield, Jackson, Pontotoc, Payne, Rogers, and Tulsa counties have been using the State’s felony child neglect law to police pregnant women and to seek severe penalties for those who experience pregnancy losses,” the organization said.
Six months after Poolaw was charged, the state Supreme Court released an opinion that state child neglect and homicide laws could be applied to a pregnant person who uses drugs, opening the door for a fetus to be considered “a child” with regards to criminal law.
Rates of stillbirth remain high for non-white women in America. Non-Hispanic black women experience stillbirth at a rate of 10.32 per 1,000 live births and still births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For American Indian or Alaska Native women, the rate is 7.22, compared to white women at a rate of 4.89.
Further insulting to Poolaw is that her one-day trial occurred during Ronald Reagan-created Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. And in what feels like a personal slap in the face: Pregnancy loss advocates use today, Oct. 15, as a specific remembrance day.