Here’s the thing: Certain laws are inherently unjust, or, at the very least, pave the way for cruel and unjust prosecutions. Oftentimes, these laws, as well as their enforcers, appear to be aimed at criminalizing people for the sake of criminalizing people, as opposed to doing what laws are supposedly meant to do, which is to protect the public. And like all things related to systemic criminalization, Black people are disproportionately vulnerable to being further victimized by these laws and those who prosecute them.
Last month, 33-year-old Brittany Watts found out in a courtroom in Warren, Ohio, that a case in which she’s charged with abuse of a corpse will go to a grand jury. The “corpse” in question was a non-viable fetus that she allegedly tried to flush and then plunge out of a toilet after she miscarried at 22 weeks.
From WKBN 27:
Investigators said they found a baby stuck in a toilet at Watts’ home on Sept. 22.
“She said she felt the baby come out and there was a big splash,” said Det. Nick Carney, with the Warren Police Department.
Forensic pathologist Dr. George Sterbenz testified an autopsy found no injury to the fetus, and that the unborn fetus had died before passing through the birth canal. He said Watts’ medical records showed she visited the hospital twice before the delivery.
“This fetus was going to be non-viable. It was going to be non-viable because she had premature ruptured membranes — her water had broken early — and the fetus was too young to be delivered,” Sterbenz said.
So, setting aside the trauma experienced by expecting mothers who miscarry, and the fact that without common knowledge guidelines on how a miscarried fetus should be disposed of, no pregnant woman should be expected to know off-hand what to do in this tragic situation, the real question is this: Ultimately, who did Brittany Watts harm?
“The issue isn’t how the child died, when the child died—it’s the fact that the baby was put into a toilet, large enough to clog up a toilet, left in that toilet and she went on [with] her day,” said Warren assistance prosecutor Lewis Guarnieri.
First of all, how exactly would Guarnieri or anyone else know how Watts “went on with her day” after suffering the trauma of passing a deceased fetus through her body? Apparently, this man who has never been pregnant, given birth or miscarried believes he knows more about the physical, mental and emotional toll experienced by those who have.
Either that or he’s just another brutishly discompassionate man who is using the law to control and/or prosecute women’s bodies.
“This 33-year-old girl, with no criminal record, is demonized for something that goes on every day,” Traci Timko, Watts’ attorney, said in court.
But, again, let’s say Guarnier’s assessment of what Watts did was accurate. He in no way explained why what she did warrants criminal protection. Is he prosecuting Watts on behalf of the plumber who had to unclog the toilet? Who did she harm? How is she a danger the public needs protection from?
Bootlickers and misogynists alike will argue “the law is the law,” but they won’t likely be able to explain who the law serves in this case by punishing a woman who has been through enough. If there was ever a reason to use prosecutorial discretion, it’s this case and others like it—of which there are many.
When the prosecution of a person who commits a truly victimless “crime” by breaking an arbitrary law takes precedents over basic human decency and empathy, the “justice” system is demonstrably broken. Sometimes, you don’t need to be an expert to know the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the judge in this case disagreed.
“There are better scholars than I am to determine the exact legal status of this fetus/corpse/body/birthing tissue/whatever it is. Matter of fact, I’m assuming most of these Issue 1’s all about at what point something becomes viable,” Warren Municipal Court Judge Terry Ivanchak said even though the literal forensic pathologist on the case testified that the literal autopsy showed the “fetus was going to be non-viable.”
It just seems like Ivanchak ruled there was probable cause to send this case to a grand jury despite the fact that no one can seem to come up with a plausible explanation for why the only true victim in this case, the would-be mother, should be prosecuted at all. That’s not justice, it’s oppression and cruelty under the guise of justice.