COLUMBUS, Ohio - An Ohio prosecutor says it is not within his power to drop a criminal charge against a woman who miscarried in the restroom at her home, regardless of the pressure being brought to bear by the national attention on her case.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said in a release issued late Tuesday that he is obligated to present the felony abuse-of-corpse charge against Brittany Watts, 33, of Warren, to a grand jury.
"The county prosecutors are duty bound to follow Ohio law," he wrote, noting that the memo would suffice as his office's only comment on the matter.
Watkins said it is the grand jury's role to determine whether Watts should be indicted. Defendants are "no-billed," or not indicted, in about 20% of the hundreds of cases county grand juries hear each year, he said.
"This office, as always, will present every case with fairness," Watkins wrote. "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 miscarried at home on Sept. 22, days after a doctor told her that her fetus had a heartbeat but was nonviable. She twice visited Mercy Health-St. Joseph’s Hospital in Warren and twice left before receiving care.
A nurse called police when Watts returned that Friday, bleeding, no longer pregnant and saying that her fetus was in a bucket in the backyard. Police arrived at her home, where they found the toilet clogged and the 22-week-old fetus wedged in the pipes. Authorities seized the toilet bowl and extracted the fetus.
Watts was ultimately charged with abuse of a corpse, a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The case touched off a national firestorm over the treatment of pregnant women, particularly those like Watts who are Black, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2022 decision overturning federal abortion protections.
A city prosecutor told a municipal judge that Watts' actions broke the law. He said after she flushed, plunged and scooped out the toilet following her miscarriage, she left home knowing it was clogged and "went on (with) her day."
Watts has pleaded not guilty. Her attorney argued in court that she was being "demonized for something that goes on every day." An autopsy found "no recent injuries" to the fetus, which had died in utero.
On Friday, Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights — a coalition behind Ohio’s newly passed reproductive rights amendment — wrote to Watkins, urging him to drop the charge against Watts. The group said the charge violates the "spirit and letter" of the amendment.