Brittany Watts suffered a miscarriage and was instructed by her doctor that she could significantly risk her own life unless she discharged the fetus. After doing so, Ohio authorities sought to levy criminal charges against her, a development that garnered international attention and highlighted the injustices of U.S. reproductive law. But on Thursday “[a] grand jury returned a ‘no bill’…the prosecutor said, meaning they decided there will be no indictment,” CBS News reports.
Watts was facing charges under the abuse of a corpse “section of Ohio law that penalizes treatment of a human corpse in a ‘way that the person knows would outrage reasonable family sensibilities’ or ‘community sensibilities.’”
At almost 22 weeks pregnant, after passing thick blood clots, Watts went to her doctor. She was told “that her water had broken prematurely and the baby most likely wouldn’t survive. Over the next three days, Watts made multiple trips to the hospital before miscarrying into her home toilet.” Both the autopsy and expert testimony show that the fetus died while in the womb and was nonviable.
If this case had continued, Watts would have been charged with a fifth degree felony, a $2,500 fine, and a yearlong prison sentence.
Widespread support poured in for Watts as the news made headlines, including a GoFundMe that surpassed its goal on the fundraising platform.
Initially, Judge Terry Ivanchak issued a ruling that there was “‘probably cause’ to find [Watts] guilty.” And according to Dennis Watkins, the Trumbull County Prosecutor, the grand jury had to make a decision on if there was sufficient evidence for her felony indictment.
Per the court filing, the grand jury convened for two days and “examined seven witnesses” before coming to their decision.
In a statement, Watkins, said “We respectfully disagree with the lower court’s application of the law.”
“No matter how shocking or disturbing it may sound when presented in a public forum, it is simply the devastating reality of miscarriage,” Watt’s attorney, Traci Timko, stated.
“While the last three months have been agonizing, we are incredibly grateful and relieved that justice was handed down by the grand jury today,” Timko added.
On Thursday, supporters held a “We Stand With Brittany!” rally. Watts addressed the crowd following the grand jury announcement, saying “I want to thank my community — Warren. Warren, Ohio. I was born here. I was raised here. I graduated high school here, and I’m going to continue to stay here because I have to continue to fight.”
In a post Roe v. Wade world, the criminalization of reproductive outcomes is especially concerning for Black women. The research is clear: “Black women have a higher rate of miscarriage than White women.”
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report finding “that Black women are three times more likely to die due to a pregnancy-related issue than White women, due to factors including the quality of health care, underlying health conditions, structural racism and implicit bias.”
Executive Director of SisterSong, Monica Simpson, has been amplifying Watts’ ordeal, though the organization is not directly working with Watts.
In light of the grand jury’s decision, Simpson stated that they are “encouraged that the Trumbull County grand jury has decided not to indict Ms. Watts,” as per a statement provided to ESSENCE. “We are taking the time to acknowledge this positive development for Black women and for our community. At the same time, we know that Ms. Watts should have never been put in this position.”
“Instead of receiving love and care so she could focus on healing from the trauma of losing a pregnancy, Ms. Watts was forced to fight for her freedom against criminal charges for her loss,” Simpson declared.
“She deserves reproductive justice, not the threat of criminalization. And that threat still looms for Black women and women of color, who are more likely to be overpoliced when it comes to abortion bans,” Simpson stated. “That is why we must continue to advance Reproductive Justice, to push back on the criminalization of our communities, and to fight for our bodily autonomy.”