- Brittney Poolaw was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month.
- Prosecutors had charged Poolaw with manslaughter, saying she caused a miscarriage through meth use.
- A national women’s organization says there’s been a three-fold increase in similar cases since 2006.
The sentencing of an Oklahoma woman to four years in prison on manslaughter charges – blaming her for a miscarriage she experienced as a teen – is part of a disturbing trend, a national organization that advocates for the rights of pregnant women told Insider.
But Dana Sussman, deputy executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said the autopsy found other issues that might have impacted Poolaw’s pregnancy, and that meth use was not determined to be the reason she lost the fetus, which was not yet at a stage that it could survive outside of the womb.
Sussman said Poolaw’s case is a part of an “extreme acceleration” in arrests, prosecutions, and “deprivations of liberty” of women in connection to their pregnancies.
According to National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s tracking, there were 413 such case across the country from 1973 to 2005. Between 2006 and 2020, that number jumped to more than 1,200 cases nationally – a three-fold increase.
When it comes to cases of women being charged with manslaughter over miscarriages, Sussman says there have been three in Oklahoma, including Poolaw’s case.
There have also been two cases in a single California county, where one woman is currently serving an 11-year sentence after prosecutors argued that her meth use led to her delivering a stillborn baby.
Sussman says the organization’s data shows these prosecutions are not limited to certain pockets of the country, but are part of a wider shift to prosecute women who use drugs during pregnancy.
“While it may seem like these cases are one-off, extreme sort of outliers, they’re actually not,” Sussman said. “They’re part of a much-bigger story around the use of fetal personhood language and laws and constitutional amendments to attack pregnant women’s rights and their own constitutional rights to exist and make decisions.”
While Poolaw’s case doesn’t involve abortion, Sussman also connected her conviction to the challenges facing Roe v. Wade, the monumental Supreme Court decision that enshrined a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.
That right has been thrown into question recently with the passing of a law in Texas which effectively bans abortion, paving the way for other states to do the same in hopes that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court eventually issues a ruling in their favor.
Sussman said if Roe is overturned, it will allow prosecutors to weigh the life of a fetus above that of a mother and result in more prosecutions of women like Pooley.
“If we allow prosecutions like this to happen without being challenged, every miscarriage could be suspect, especially in a world in which Roe and the protections therein are either completely decimated or overturned,” Sussman said. “We’re talking about every pregnancy loss being something that a police officer could investigate.”