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Grand jury declines indictment of Youngstown-area woman charged after suffering miscarriage

Brittany Watts speaks during a rally in Warren, Ohio on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, hours after a grand jury declined to indict her on abuse of a corpse charges following a miscarriage.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Brittany Watts speaks during a rally in Warren, Ohio on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, hours after a grand jury declined to indict her on abuse of a corpse charges following a miscarriage.

A grand jury declined to indict a Warren woman who was facing felony charges after suffering a miscarriage, the Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office announced Thursday afternoon.

Brittany Watts, 34, suffered a miscarriage at home after a series of doctor and hospital visits in September when she was about 22 weeks pregnant. After she tried to flush and plunge the fetal remains down the toilet, a local hospital notified police that Watts was no longer pregnant.

Police searched Watts' home to determine what had happened to the fetus. She was arrested and charged with one felony count of abuse of a corpse. The case was sent to a grand jury to decide on indictment in November.

The grand jury's decision was announced hours before a rally in support of Watts was scheduled to take place outside the courthouse in Warren. Watts attended the rally and thanked her supporters to a round of cheers and applause.

"I want to first thank God, who has been sovereign through all of this from the very beginning and I want to thank my community, Warren, Ohio," Watts said. "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."

Traci Timko, Watts' attorney, echoed her words about continuing their fight.

"We don't stop here. She has an enormous sense of community, an enormous sense of faith and she believes that when we know better, we'll do better, and that she's going to work to make, to hold them all, hold their feet to the fire, acquiesce to the fact this was wrong and let's change it," Timko said. "So no other woman is forced to fight for her freedom while she puts her own trauma and grief on a back burner to muster the strength to fight."

The charges against Watts were filed by the Warren Police Department upon the advice of the Warren City Prosecutor's Office, before it was bound over to a grand jury, according to Dennis Watkins, the Trumbull County Prosecutor.

"This office, including Assistant Prosecutor [Diane] Barber, as ministers of justice and after a careful evaluation of both sides' positions, interviewing witnesses, and researching and applying the law, believe that Brittany Watts, did not violate the Ohio Criminal Statue of Abuse of a Corpse as alleged in the complaint. We respectfully disagree with the lower court's application of the law," Watkins said in a statement issued Thursday.

Prosecutors initially said Watts violated an Ohio law against abusing a corpse, in part because the fetus was near the state’s 24-week viability threshold when she miscarried and disposed of the remains after first seeking medical treatment.

"This office took some criticism and vicious personal attacks by the few who didn't understand that a reasonable amount of time was needed to do our duties and misreported that we were seeking an indictment in this case," Watkins' statement said. "Furthermore, I will always defend their right of freedom of speech even when they are wrong. However, in order for our criminal justice system to work as designed, we should understand that there are two sides, and both are entitled to be heard and have appropriate due process of law through the court system with civility and mutual respect."

The case received national attention amid Ohio's changing laws on reproductive rights.

Ohio voters enshrined reproductive rights in the state constitution in November, just weeks after Watts' arrest, under State Issue 1, or the Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety amendment. The amendment includes protection for abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care and continuing pregnancy.

Timko added that once things settle, Watts wants to share her story to prevent similar cases from happening.

"She has vowed she is going to do everything in her power to make sure her story is an impetus to change," Timko said.

Updated: January 11, 2024 at 6:08 PM EST
6 p.m., Jan. 11, 2024: This story was updated to include quotes from Brittany Watts and a statement issued by the Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office.
Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.
Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.