Black Woman Who Was Charged for Miscarriage Was Reported to Cops by Her Nurse
In the audio of the 911 call obtained by CBS, the nurse tells police that Brittany Watts “didn’t want to look” at her fetal remains as evidence of wrongdoing.
About two weeks after an Ohio jury decided not to charge Brittany Watts with a felony abuse of a corpse charge for having a miscarriage at 22 weeks, Watts gave her first interview on Friday. In the interview with CBS, Watts, a Black woman, recounted her three experiences at Mercy Health in Warren, Ohio, which culminated in a nurse calling the police on her when she came in after having a miscarriage—even as the nurse offered Watts reassurance to her face. In the audio of the call, obtained by CBS, the nurse tells police that Watts “didn’t want the baby” as evidence of supposed wrongdoing.
Watts miscarried in late September while using the restroom in her home, then flushed the fetal remains down her toilet. The nurse called the police when she came to the hospital bleeding and said she was no longer pregnant. This prompted police to visit Watts’ house days later, recover the fetal remains, and arrest her, charging her with felony abuse of a corpse—even though a forensic pathologist testified in November that her fetus was not born alive and had not been viable. Still, Watts faced up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, and a felony on her record, until a jury declined to charge her earlier this month.
Speaking to CBS last week, Watts says that days before her miscarriage, she went to her OB/GYN when she noticed “uncomfortable” fluid leaking out of her and learned her pregnancy was nonviable. She was then transported by ambulance to Mercy Health—but was forced to wait at least eight hours for a doctor who never came before she eventually left “against medical advice,” per records obtained by CBS.
Concerned for her health, Watts, who was 21 weeks and five days pregnant, returned for a second visit to seek an induction abortion because her fetus was not viable. But according to CBS, this time, Watts was referred to the Catholic hospital’s ethics committee because staff members were concerned with her use of the word “abortion.” Abortion is legal in Ohio until 22 weeks, after that, it’s banned except to save the life of the pregnant person. (As we’ve seen in other states—most notably Texas—women with nonviable, dangerous pregnancies are frequently denied emergency abortion care if they aren’t at an imminent risk of death.) Watts waited 11 hours, was denied an emergency abortion, and returned home. “I felt frustrated. I felt ignored,” she told CBS of the experience.
Two days later, Watts miscarried and returned to the hospital. She says her nurse told her “Everything’s going to be OK” to her face but subsequently called the police on her. According to CBS, audio of the call reveals the unidentified nurse telling the 911 dispatcher that Watts “didn’t want to look” at her fetal remains and claimed Watts “didn’t want the baby,” referring to the nonviable fetus. Watts told CBS this isn’t true: “I said I did not want to look. I have never said I didn’t want my baby. I would have never said something like that,” she said. “It just makes me angry that somebody would put those type of words in my mouth to make me seem so callous and so, so hateful.”
Mercy Health declined to comment on Watts’ care to CBS due to patient privacy. (Though that didn’t stop the hospital from calling the cops on her.) “It is with the deepest empathy during difficult times that we care for those who have suffered a great loss,” the hospital said in a statement.
It seems important to emphasize that you shouldn’t have to be publicly excited about your pregnancy to not be criminalized for a miscarriage, nor should you be regarded as criminally suspect based on your reaction to your miscarriage. About 40% of people who were investigated by police for self-managing abortions between 2000 and 2020 were reported by healthcare workers, per an If/When/How report from 2022. Watts had a miscarriage, not an abortion, but hospital staff had already internally reported and flagged her as suspicious for previously asking for an abortion for her nonviable pregnancy. Dana Sussman, deputy executive director of Pregnancy Justice, told Jezebel in December that many cases of pregnancy-related criminal charges involve “suspicion or a question about whether someone intentionally sought to end their pregnancy,” with criminal charges doled out to “punish someone for possibly engaging in this behavior.” She explained, “You don’t need an abortion ban to criminalize pregnancy.”
Traci Timko, Watts’ attorney, accused the hospital of “weaponizing the police” to CBS. In a statement shared with Jezebel last month, Timko said law enforcement was “demonizing” her client “for a common experience that many women share.”