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Charges Against Black Woman who Miscarried Baby in Bathroom Show Why Hospitals Need Better Maternal Healthcare for Black Women

Charges Against Black Woman who Miscarried Baby in Bathroom Show Why Hospitals Need Better Maternal Healthcare for Black Women

Pregnant woman with hands on stomach.

In December of 2023, a Black woman and Ohio resident was charged on the premises of “abusing a corpse” after having a miscarriage in a hospital bathroom. She now advocates for others with similar stories, highlighting flaws within the way healthcare systems treat Black women.

The woman, Brittany Watts, was 21 weeks pregnant and sought medical treatment at Mercy Health St. Joseph Hospital in Warren, Ohio only to be met with an extremely long wait. Following an 8-hour wait during her initial visit, she departed the hospital against advice. Subsequently, she returned the next day for an induction, enduring an additional 11-hour wait. She left the hospital again without getting induced and returned a third time, where she miscarried in a bathroom.

A nurse who was with Watts called the police claiming Watts did not want to look at nor have her baby, which Watts says was false.

“I said I did not want to look,” Watts said to NBC news. “I have never said I didn’t want my baby. I would have never said something like that. It just makes me angry that somebody would put those types of words in my mouth to make me seem so callous and so-so hateful.”

Though an Ohio grand jury dismissed her charges on January 11, Watts should have never been charged in the first place. Punishable up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500, Watts’ charges for abusing a corpse are thought to be racially motivated.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first mistreatment of pregnant Black women in hospitals. In 2019, Tressie McMillan Cotton published an article on Time Magazine describing her harrowing still birth at a hospital. She stated that she was treated condescendingly and, like Watts, was forced to wait a long time for treatment despite excruciating pain.

She says she had two tumors along with her baby, but was left undiagnosed during her three days of labor, which she was not aware was the cause of her pain. She described doctors threatening to release her from the hospital without pain medication simply for swearing out in pain. When she gave birth to her still-born daughter, nurses blamed her for the tragedy.

“Just so you know, there was nothing we could have done, because you did not tell us you were in labor,” said one of the nurses, according to Cotton.

Even celebrities such as Serena Williams have faced poor experiences during their pregnancies due to negligent healthcare treatment. Vogue writer Rob Haskell wrote that the star tennis player described being dismissed when complaining of pain and requesting CT scans.

Statistics show that Black women are three times more likely to face pregnancy-related mortality than White women, demonstrating a clear racial disparity in access to quality healthcare treatment. Black women are thus under immense pressure when navigating pregnancy in a biased healthcare system. Many even have greater fears of dying due to improper medical care.

Black Woman looking at pregnancy test- healthcare

High healthcare costs, longer wait times, implicit racial bias and misconceptions of Black pain tolerance are all factors that can contribute to these fears.

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It’s clear that more economic resources and attention are needed when treating Black women during pregnancy. Nurses and doctors need proper healthcare and cultural communication training when it comes to treating Black women fairly and seriously in their maternal concerns.

Watts said herself to NBC that history repeats itself in cases like these.

“I don’t want it to happen in this case,” she then said.

Following the horrifying ordeal, Watts says she is motivated to become a healthcare rights activist herself.

Find more resources for Black maternal healthcare here.

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