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Advocates say an Oklahoma woman's manslaughter conviction due to her miscarriage is 'shameful'

Wikipedia / Crimsonedge34 / CC BY-SA 3.0
2010 file photo of the Comanche County Courthouse in Lawton, Okla.

Advocates are outraged after a Comanche County jury convicted a Lawton woman of first degree manslaughter this month following a miscarriage in the 17th week of her pregnancy. 

According to court records, Brittney Poolaw, 20, lost her pregnancy on January 4, 2020 and was charged on March 17 of that year.

"Contrary to all medical science, the prosecutor blamed the miscarriage on Ms. Poolaw’s alleged use of controlled substances," reads a news release from advocacy group National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "Not even the medical examiner’s report identifies use of controlled substances as the cause of the miscarriage. Even with this lack of evidence, the prosecutor moved forward with the charge. On October 5, after just a one-day trial, Ms. Poolaw was convicted and sentenced to a four year prison term.

"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."

Reached by phone Monday, Dana Sussman, the group's deputy executive director, said they first learned of Poolaw's case earlier this year and had been attempting to assist Poolaw's court-appointed attorney prior to the jury trial.

"There was no legal or medical foundation for the conviction, or, frankly, no legal or medical justification for the charges in the first place," Sussman said.

"We were sadly surprised at how quickly this case went through to trial," Sussman said. "The trial lasted one day, the jury deliberated for only a couple of hours and came back with a guilty verdict, which we think is wrong on multiple levels and tragic."

NAPW hired Oklahoma City-based attorney John Coyle III to assist in appealing the conviction. Reached by phone Monday, Coyle said he would "get in there and fight."

"It's a new way to dominate women, I think," Coyle said. "I'm real disappointed that Oklahoma would do this, but I'm not surprised."

Sussman said NAPW staff plan to travel to Comanche County to meet Poolaw and Coyle in-person for the first time in the coming weeks, bringing with them the outpouring of supportive messages they've received on her behalf.

"We're hoping the commitment of many folks to explore her legal options and fight this conviction will lift her spirits," Sussman said.

"Brittney's case has clearly connected with people. It's touched a nerve," Sussman said. "We want folks to remember that while Brittney's case is horrific and egregious on many levels, it is not unique. We're seeing more cases out of Oklahoma and we're seeing cases around the country involving pregnancy loss and criminal charges. We are committed to exploring all the options for Brittney, and also anyone else who faces criminalization because of their pregnancy or pregnancy outcome."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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