A grand jury in Ohio decided not to indict a woman on allegations that she mishandled the remains of a fetus after suffering a miscarriage at home.
Brittany Watts, 34, had been charged with abuse of a corpse after she miscarried into a toilet at her home on September 22. The charge is a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The case drew national attention amid fears about the future of reproductive rights in the post-Roe era.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said last month that he was unable to drop the charge and is bound by duty to bring the case before a grand jury.
On Thursday, Watkins’ office said in a statement that Trumbull County grand jury decided against indicting Watts on the abuse of corpse charge, according to NBC News. The decision means the case has been dropped.
Watts was 21 weeks and 5 days pregnant when she went to the hospital on September 19 with signs indicating that her water had broken prematurely. Watts’ doctor told her that her fetus had a heartbeat but was non-viable.
Watts told her doctor she could “better process what was happening to her at home” and left the hospital against medical advice.
Watts returned the next day, September 20, after she made the decision to have the non-viable fetus induced. But, staffers at the hospital spent hours debating how to proceed, according to The Washington Post. At the time, abortion was legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks.
Watts eventually left the hospital again.
She ultimately ended up miscarrying the fetus at home, into the toilet on September 22. She returned to the hospital “for vaginal bleeding with retained placenta after a home delivery,” according to the coroner’s report obtained by CNN. That’s when a nurse reported her to the police.
Watts told officers her fetus was in a bucket in the backyard. But, when police arrived at her home they found the toilet clogged and the fetus inside.
An autopsy revealed the fetus died inside the womb due to severely low amniotic fluid from the premature rupture of membranes.
Since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade nearly two dozen states have passed laws that restrict or ban abortion and allow prosecutors to bring charges against those who provide the procedure, NBC noted.
Last November, voters in Ohio approved a ballot measure to enshrine abortion and other forms of reproductive health care protections into Ohio’s constitution.
The measure establishes in the state constitution “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment,” including to make decisions on abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy and miscarriage care.