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Miscarriage or Crime?

August 29, 2007

On Monday, a fetus was found at a sewage pump station in Morgantown, WV. According to news articles, anything larger than 3/4 of an inch gets trapped by the screen, and “it’s likely the fetus was flushed down a toilet.” Another article indicates that the fetus was not full term, which seems obvious given that they assume it was able to get through toilet plumbing. The fetus has been sent to state medical examiners for further investigation including possible determination of age, sex, and race.

The thing that gives me the willies? “Morgantown Police Sergeant Matt Metheney said police aren’t certain whether a crime has been committed [because the fetus was “so small”]. They’re trying to locate the mother of the “unborn child” to learn what happened.” They’re also “calling local hospitals and the West Virginia University Health Center to see if anyone checked in with related health issues,” and “Investigators are asking anyone with information to call Morgantown police at 304-284-7522.” None of the stories indicate the size of the fetus, but to suggest that it’s bigger than 3/4″ and “too small to determine age, gender or race,” so was sent to the ME. How big is toilet plumbing? How does that compare to this fetal development chart?

Look, I understand that they want to make sure nothing untoward happened. The spectre of getting a police visit if you miscarry into a toilet is quite chilling, though. What of the women they might “suspect” based on reports from local hospitals or individual tips? Will they be subjected to testing to see if they might have been pregnant? Pregnancies go wrong and end early quite frequently, and it just simply freaks me out to think about law enforcement making it their business to try to root out the poor woman, if that is what happened.

WBOY Channel 12 in Morgantown headlines their piece, “Abandoned Fetus Discovered in Morgantown.” If this is simply the story of a woman having an unfortunate miscarriage, “abandoned” seems a little judgmental, no?

21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2007 12:55 pm

    What possible crime could there be? The crime of having an emotionally heartwrenching event in the privacy of your own home?

  2. August 29, 2007 12:59 pm

    KCo, I have no idea.

  3. August 29, 2007 1:57 pm

    Depending on the age of the fetus, and it seems like the age is pretty young (read: nonviable), no crime has been committed either way. A tragedy, to be sure, but a crime? No. It’s definitely a violation of privacy.

  4. August 29, 2007 3:30 pm

    Mama Bear, it’s simply shocking to me that they’re calling for “tips” to the police line so they can track this poor woman down.

  5. August 29, 2007 3:58 pm

    Which is to say *I* don’t think a crime happened, but titled the post as a question because the police are asking that question.

  6. August 29, 2007 4:21 pm

    That’s awful.

    I don’t know about what happens when it gets out of the toilet, but the pipes I’ve seen are generally somewhere between 1.5″ and 3″ in diameter (and 3″ is really pushing it; 2.5 would). With proper pressure, you might be able to get something as big as 4 months through, according to that chart (assuming it went more or less vertically, and the skeleton was still highly flexible).

    That said… at that point, you’re just beginning to show. While a woman really in tune with herself might be able to tell within a week or so, a woman who wasn’t very attuned to her body, who was in denial, under stress, or of a body type that lent itself to rapid changes in weight (and thus irregular menstruation) could easily get to that point without knowing what was happening.

    On the smaller end of the scale (3/4″)… while that’s certainly big enough to see, it’s certainly not big enough that you could be completely assured of seeing it amid all the other stuff that one traditionally drops in a toilet during a period (particularly if, say, one had a bowel movement at the time). Again, someone on the ball and really thinking about it would probably know…but if you didn’t know you were pregnant (or even if you did and you didn’t know that you had suddenly become not-pregnant again), I can completely understand missing it.

    More than that, of course… what on earth are you supposed to do with it? I mean, do you go run and get a jar and scoop it out of the toilet to show to someone? And if you do, who do you show it to? Do you hand it to the nearest police officer? Wander into the ME’s office with a jar of bloody toilet water and ask them to run (expensive, time consuming, yada yada) tests on it to prove that you didn’t do anything wrong? I can only imagine that counting as evidence that something was seriously wrong with you.

  7. August 29, 2007 4:32 pm

    Mag, right, and even if you knew what was happening, I doubt your first impulse would be, “Hey, let me fish this out and keep it in a jar in case the police are interested.”

  8. missedconceptions permalink
    August 31, 2007 9:50 pm

    If you miscarry naturally, a lot of women pass the “products of conception” while on the toilet. Actually, if you want genetic testing, it is suggested that you bring it to the doctor/hospital in a sterile container that you use to “catch” the tissue in, either directly or by fishing it out of the toilet.

    Let’s assume this wasn’t a miscarriage, though. Has a crime been committed? What if she took medicine to force a miscarriage — this isn’t illegal, is it? What exactly *is* the crime that they are looking for?

  9. September 1, 2007 9:03 am

    MC, I don’t know. I poked around in the WV code, and found something about causing a woman to miscarry, and something about failing to report a death if it resulted from criminal activity, but nothing more direct. The WV code site is not exactly user-friendly, though, so I may have missed something.

  10. missedconceptions permalink
    September 1, 2007 11:18 am

    Although it pains me to say this, I will have to add this to my list of reasons never to move to West Virginia.

  11. September 4, 2007 12:51 am

    Hi Rachel. I just wanted to let you know that I came across your post today, and I decided to write about it at BlogHer…

  12. September 4, 2007 7:48 am

    Thanks, Catherine.

  13. December 28, 2007 11:24 am

    Just another example of there being WAY too many police with not enough to do, so they must invent crimes. It would scare me to death to be “investigated” for something like this by the police in this state, as I have seen first hand how some of their “investigations” work. Why must the police be involved in personal, medical, mental health, and all the rest?

  14. Heather permalink
    May 3, 2008 7:19 am

    This is really appalling to me. I am in the middle of miscarrying right now. I do not plan to flush the fetus but If it happened to fall into the toilette at 8 weeks, I would be hard pressed to yank the little blob back out.
    They should look into helping someone instead of wasting time and money looking for an offender where there is none.

  15. May 8, 2008 10:34 pm

    I think that sometimes before pointing the finger we need to stop and try to think about the personal situation of this poor woman. Regarding the issue of crime or not, I feel very, very sorry for her.


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