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Brittany Watts: Woman criminally charged over miscarriage slams her arrest

An Ohio woman who faced criminal charges after miscarrying her nonviable foetus says she waited for two days for medical help as doctors dithered over whether her case would breach the state’s abortion laws.

When Brittany Watts, 34, sought medical help a third time after miscarrying her child at home, an emergency room nurse who had appeared supportive called police on her.

Ms Watts went to Mercy Health – St Joseph Warren Hospital in Youngstown twice in September last year after suffering bleeding, but told CBS News she was denied treatment while an ethics committee weighed whether doctors could legally abort the foetus.

She said she became frustrated with the lack of medical care after waiting 19 hours over two days, and suffered a miscarriage after returning to her home.

Ms Watts was then charged with abuse of a corpse after officers from the Warren Police Department found the remains of a foetus stuck in her toilet last September.

A judge ordered that the case should go before a grand jury, who declined to press charges against her earlier this month.

In a new interview, Ms Watts told CBS News that she had gone to see her doctor four days before her miscarriage after she began leaking fluid.

Brittany Watts is speaking out after facing criminal charges over a miscarriage (WKBN27/Screenshot)
Brittany Watts is speaking out after facing criminal charges over a miscarriage (WKBN27/Screenshot)

She was informed that the foetus was nonviable and sent to Mercy Health.

Medical records reviewed by CBS News show that she was seen by a doctor who feared her life was at risk from an abruption and premature rupture of the membrane.

The doctor requested an “inpatient consult to ethics” over concerns that aborting the foetus could breach Ohio’s laws, which ban abortions after 22 weeks. Ms Watts was 21 weeks and six days pregnant, according to the records.

Ms Watts told CBS News that she was not informed that doctors had been waiting to hear back from the hospital’s ethics committee due to concerns over state abortion laws.

She said she became frustrated after waiting for eight hours for further treatment and left the hospital.

She returned the next day where she was given IV treatment, and waited a further 11 hours to be induced, medical records show.

She said she grew tired of waiting, and checked herself out of the hospital while the ethics committee tried to resolve the remaining issues.

When she returned home, Ms Watts said she was in severe pain. Early on the morning of 22 September, she said that she “felt something happening” and went to the bathroom. She felt a “splash” and looked down to find the toilet full with blood and tissue.

Ms Watts tried to clean herself up with disinfectant wipes and in the shower, and scooped the material into a bucket and disposed of it outside, unsure if she was dreaming or awake.

She said that when she went for a scheduled hair appointment that day, the stylist noticed her discomfort and insisted that she seek medical attention.

Protesters attend a rally for the Right to Reproductive Freedom amendment in Ohio last year (Associated Press)
Protesters attend a rally for the Right to Reproductive Freedom amendment in Ohio last year (Associated Press)

When she arrived at hospital, she was severely dehydrated after losing so much blood and placed on an IV drip.

Ms Watts said that a nurse comforted her, rubbed her back and told her “everything was going to be OK”. She said she was stunned when a police officer showed up a few minutes later.

“I’m wondering, ‘Why is a police officer coming in here? I don’t recall doing anything wrong’,” she told CBS News.

“And little do I know the nurse comforting me and saying that everything was gonna be OK was the one who called police.”

A 911 call obtained by CBS News showed that the nurse called dispatch to inform them she was treating a mother who “had a delivery at home and came in without the baby”.

“She says the baby’s in her backyard in a bucket, and I need to have someone go find this baby or direct me on what I need to do,” the nurse said on the call.

The nurse said she understood that the foetus had been disposed of in a bucket at Ms Watts’ home.

The dispatcher responded that she was “going to be sick”, and asked if the baby had survived.

“She said she didn’t wanna look. She said she didn’t want the baby, and she didn’t look,” the nurse replied.

Ms Watts denied that she had told the nurse she didn’t want the child in the CBS News interview.

“I would have never said something like that. It just makes me so angry that somebody would put those type of words in my mouth to make me seem so callous. And so, so hateful,” she said.

Police were sent to Ms Watts’ home to search for the foetus, and she was interviewed for an hour at the hospital.

An officer found some of the foetus after plunging his hand into the toilet, Ms Watts’ lawyer Traci Tim told the network.

On 5 October, Ms Watts said police turned up at her home, put her in handcuffs and took her to the station on a charge of felony abuse of a corpse.

She pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a maximum $2,500 fine and up to one year in prison.

On 11 January, a grand jury in Trumball County declined to indict Ms Watts.

She said she decided to speak out to educate women on their legal rights if they suffer a miscarriage, and wants to see laws changed.

“I don’t want any other woman to go through what I had to go through,”she told CBS News.