Prosecutor Sticks to Legal Duty, Refuses to Drop Abortion Miscarriage Case

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A prosecutor in Trumbull County says that he is obligated to bring a criminal charge against a woman who miscarried in her home, despite increasing pressure and national attention on the case. County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins stated on Tuesday that he must present the felony abuse-of-corpse charge against 33-year-old Brittany Watts to a grand jury. He emphasized that county prosecutors are duty-bound to follow Ohio law. Watkins explained that it is the grand jury’s role to determine whether Watts should be indicted, and that about 20% of cases brought before county grand juries result in no indictment.

“This office, as always, will present every case with fairness,” Watkins affirmed. He added, “Our responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the accused is accorded justice and his or her presumption of innocence and that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence.”

Watts experienced a miscarriage at her home on September 22, after a doctor informed her that her fetus had a heartbeat but was not viable. She visited Mercy Health-St. Joseph’s Hospital twice but left both times without receiving care. Watts later returned to the hospital, bleeding and no longer pregnant, and informed a nurse that her fetus was in a bucket in her backyard. The police were called, and they discovered the toilet clogged and the 22-week-old fetus lodged in the pipes. Watts was subsequently charged with abuse of a corpse, which is a fifth-degree felony carrying a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The case has ignited a national debate about the treatment of pregnant women, particularly Black women, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 overturning federal abortion protections. Watts pleaded not guilty, and her attorney argued in court that she was being unfairly targeted for actions that happen regularly. An autopsy revealed no recent injuries to the fetus, which had died in utero. Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, a coalition supporting Ohio’s newly passed reproductive rights amendment, has called on Watkins to drop the charge against Watts, arguing that it violates the spirit and letter of the amendment.

In conclusion, the Trumbull County Prosecutor maintains that he is obligated to present the abuse-of-corpse charge against Brittany Watts to a grand jury, despite the mounting pressure surrounding the case. Watts, who experienced a miscarriage at home, was charged with a felony offense, a decision that has sparked a nationwide discussion on the treatment of pregnant women, particularly those who are Black, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling. The case now awaits the grand jury’s decision on whether to indict Watts.