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Ohio Grand Jury Decides to Not Charge Woman for Home Miscarriage

“Her story is one that is becoming alarmingly common,” an advocacy group said.

On Thursday, a grand jury concluded that Brittany Watts, an Ohio woman accused of self-managing an abortion after experiencing a home miscarriage, will not face charges. If Watts had been indicted, she would have faced a year in prison and a $2,5000 fine.

“I am relieved that the grand jury has finally ended the wrongful and dehumanizing case against Brittany Watts. But this decision does not erase the harm that Brittany has experienced as the result of this case,” Yveka Pierre, senior litigation counsel at If/When/How, said in a statement. “Brittany should have been able to focus on taking care of herself after her pregnancy loss. She should have been able to process, and grieve with her family and community. Instead, she was arrested and charged with a felony.”

At a visit to a Catholic hospital after Watts miscarried in September, a nurse reported her to authorities, launching a police investigation and leading Watts to be prosecuted under Ohio’s vague abuse-of-corpse statute.

“From the start of this case, I have argued that the charge was not supported by Ohio law and that Brittany was being demonized for something that takes place in the privacy of women’s homes regularly,” Brittany Watts’s attorney, Traci Timko, said in a statement. “No matter how shocking or disturbing it may sound when presented in a public forum, it is simply the devastating reality of miscarriage. While the last three months have been agonizing, we are incredibly grateful and relieved that justice was handed down by the grand jury today.”

While abortion protections went into effect in December after 57 percent of Ohioans voted to amend the state’s constitution to include abortion access, Watts’s case shows that pregnant people are still at risk of pregnancy criminalization for self-managing abortions.

“What happened to Brittany Watts is a grave example of how Black women and their bodies face legal threats simply for existing,” president and CEO Dr. Regina Davis Moss said in a statement. “Her story is one that is becoming alarmingly common: in states with abortion restrictions, Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people are being surveilled, arrested, prosecuted and punished for pregnancy loss.”

Reports from If/When/How and Pregnancy Justice show that, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, women were being criminalized for self-managed abortions. From 1973 until Roe’s termination in 2022, over 1,800 individuals faced criminal charges related to their pregnancies. Research shows that health care providers, like in Watts’s case, are most likely to report pregnant people to law enforcement.

“Cases like Brittany’s show us that, depending on your identity, the state treats some losses as tragedies and other losses as crimes,” Pierre said. “The criminalization of pregnancy loss is not based on what the law requires, but is instead the result of the racism and classism baked into the criminal legal system — an institution that seeks to dehumanize marginalized people at every turn.”

Pregnancy criminalization disproportionately affects Black, Brown and Indigenous people, immigrants, low-income people, and sex workers. A report by Pregnancy Justice found that between 2006 and June 2022, Black people made up 18.2 percent of arrests due to pregnancy criminalization and low-income people made up nearly 85 percent of pregnancy criminalization cases.

On Thursday, about 150 supporters mobilized in Watts’s hometown of Warren, Ohio, for a “We Stand With Brittany!” rally after the grand jury decided that she should not be indicted.

“This win is brought to you by people power. Give it up for the Ohio organizers and everyone who came together to demand #JusticeforBrittany,” If/When/How said on social media. “Sending all the love and care to Brittany as she finally gets time to process. Her trauma should never have been used to punish her.”