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Stillbirth leads to Murder Charge

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Woman charged with murder after stillbirth

Associated Press

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Salt Lake City — A Utah woman accused of murder after giving birth to a stillborn baby denied Friday that she had refused a medically-necessary Cesarean section.

Melissa Ann Rowland, 28, was charged Thursday of showing "depraved indifference to human life," ignoring doctors' advice to deliver her twins by C-section because she didn't want to be scarred.

In January, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that unborn children at all stages of development are covered under the state's criminal homicide statute. The law exempts the death of a fetus during an abortion.

One nurse told police Ms. Rowland said she would rather "lose one of the babies than be cut like that." But Ms. Rowland told Salt Lake City radio station KSL from jail that already has "a pretty nasty scar" from previous C-sections, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The woman's attorney, Michael Sikora, called a C-section serious surgery and told the Tribune that "it would come as no surprise that a woman with major mental illness would fear it."

Court documents allege that Ms. Rowland was warned numerous times between Christmas and Jan. 9 that her unborn twins would likely die if she did not get immediate medical treatment, the documents allege. When she delivered them on Jan. 13, the girl survived but the boy died.

Shortly afterward, Ms. Rowland was jailed on a child endangerment charge involving the surviving twin, who has been adopted by a family she knows.

The case could affect abortion rights and open the door to the prosecution of mothers who smoke or don't follow their obstetrician's diet, said Marguerite Driessen, a law professor at Brigham Young University.

"It's very troubling to have somebody come in and say we're going to charge this mother for murder because we don't like the choices she made," she said.

The woman sought medical advice in December because she hadn't felt the fetuses move, documents said.

Regina Davis, a nurse at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake, told police that during a visit there, Ms. Rowland was recommended two hospitals to go to for immediate care. She allegedly said she would rather have both twins die before she went to either of the suggested hospitals.

On Jan. 2, a doctor at LDS Hospital saw Ms. Rowland and recommended she immediately undergo a C-section based on the results of an ultrasound and the fetus' slowing heart rates. Ms. Rowland left after signing a document stating that she understood that leaving might result in death or brain injury to one or both twins, the doctor told police.

The same day, a nurse at Salt Lake Regional Hospital saw Ms. Rowland, who allegedly told her she had left LDS Hospital because the doctor wanted to cut her "from breast bone to pubic bone," a procedure that would "ruin her life."

LDS Hospital can't comment on the case because of medical privacy issues and the pending court case, said spokesman Robert Pexton.

The doctor who performed an autopsy found that the fetus died two days before delivery and would have survived if Ms. Rowland had undergone a C-section when urged to do so.

She was charged in Salt Lake County with one first-degree felony count of criminal homicide and is being held on $250,000 (U.S.) bail at the Salt Lake County jail.

She is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. If convicted, she could be sentenced to between five years and life in prison.

Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room