Woman who miscarried at home won't be charged with corpse abuse

The grand jury decision came just hours before supporters of the woman had planned to rally outside the Ohio courthouse.
File photo shows the Trumbull County Courthouse in Warren, Ohio.
Posted at 3:16 PM, Jan 11, 2024

An Ohio woman facing a criminal charge for her handling of a home miscarriage will not be charged, a grand jury decided Thursday.

The Trumbull County prosecutor’s office said grand jurors declined to return an indictment for abuse of a corpse against Brittany Watts, 34, of Warren, resolving a case that had sparked national attention for its implications for pregnant women as states across the country hash out new laws governing reproductive health care access.

The announcement came hours before her supporters planned a “We Stand With Brittany!” rally on Warren’s Courthouse Square.

A municipal judge had found probable cause to bind over Watts’ case. That was after city prosecutors said she miscarried, flushed and scooped out the toilet, then left the house, leaving the 22-week-old fetus lodged in the pipes. Her attorney told the judge Watts had no criminal record and was being “demonized for something that goes on every day.” An autopsy determined the fetus died in utero and identified “no recent injuries.”

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Watts had visited Mercy Health-St. Joseph’s Hospital, a Catholic facility in working-class Warren, about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland, twice in the days leading up to her miscarriage. Her doctor had told her she was carrying a nonviable fetus and to have her labor induced or risk “significant risk” of death, according to records of her case.

Due to delays and other complications, her attorney said, she left each time without being treated. After she miscarried, she tried to go to a hair appointment, but friends sent her to the hospital. A nurse called 911 to report a previously pregnant patient had returned reporting, “the baby’s in her backyard in a bucket.”

That call launched a police investigation that led to the eventual charge against Watts.

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Warren Assistant Prosecutor Lewis Guarnieri told Municipal Court Judge Terry Ivanchak the issue wasn’t “how the child died, when the child died” but “the fact the baby was put into a toilet, was large enough to clog up the toilet, left in the toilet, and she went on (with) her day.”

Her attorney Traci Timko said in an interview that Ohio’s abuse-of-corpse statute lacks clear definitions, including what is meant by “human corpse” and what constitutes “outrage” to the reasonable family and community sensibilities.

When Ivanchak bound the case over, he said, “There are better scholars than I am to determine the exact legal status of this fetus, corpse, body, birthing tissue, whatever it is.”