An Oklahoma woman's jail sentence for manslaughter after a miscarriage highlights an 'extreme acceleration' in prosecuting pregnancy over the last 16 years

A pregnant stomach. Getty Images
Brittney Poolaw was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month.
Prosecutors had charged Poolaw with manslaughter and said she had miscarried from meth use.
A national women's organization says similar cases have tripled since 2006.
Sentencing an Oklahoma woman to four years in prison for manslaughter - blaming her for a miscarriage she witnessed as a teenager - is part of a worrying trend, a national organization campaigning for the rights of pregnant women told Insider .
When Brittney Poolaw miscarried at 17 weeks of age, an autopsy revealed methamphetamine in the fetus' system, the Associated Press reported.
But Dana Sussman, assistant executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said the autopsy found other issues that may have affected Poolaw's pregnancy and that meth use was not the reason for the loss of the fetus, which was not yet on The end was the stage at which it could survive outside the womb.
Sussman said Poolaw's case was part of an "extreme acceleration" in the arrests, prosecutions and "deprivation of liberty" of women in connection with their pregnancies.
According to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Tracking, there were 413 such cases nationwide from 1973 to 2005. Between 2006 and 2020 that number rose to more than 1,200 cases nationwide - tripling.
When it comes to cases where women are charged with manslaughter for miscarriages, there are three in Oklahoma, including the Poolaw case, Sussman says.
There have also been two cases in a single California county where a woman is currently serving an 11-year prison term after prosecutors argued that her meth use resulted in her giving birth to a stillborn baby.
Sussman says the organization's data shows that these law enforcements are not limited to specific parts of the country, but are part of a wider shift to prosecute women who use drugs while pregnant.
"While these cases may seem like one-time, extreme outliers, they really aren't," Sussman said. "They are part of a much larger story of the use of language and fetal personality laws and constitutional changes to attack the rights of pregnant women and their own constitutional right to exist and make decisions."
While Poolaw's case does not involve abortion, Sussman also linked her conviction to the challenges Roe v. Wade faces the monumental Supreme Court decision that enshrined a constitutional right to abortion.
That right was recently challenged when Texas passed law effectively prohibiting abortion and paving the way for other states to do the same in the hope that the Conservative majority of the Supreme Court will eventually rule in their favor.
Sussman said if Roe is overthrown it will allow prosecutors to weigh the life of a fetus above that of a mother and lead to more prosecutions for women like Pooley.
"If we allow law enforcements like this to take place without contestation, any miscarriage could be suspect, especially in a world where Roe and the safeguards it contains are either completely decimated or lifted," Sussman said. "We're talking about any pregnancy loss being something a cop could investigate."
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