Pregnancy Justice files legal brief supporting the right of all people, including pregnant women, to medical privacy

Pregnancy Justice is in the Ohio Supreme Court supporting a young woman charged with homicide after experiencing a stillbirth. For now, the issue is whether her confidential statements to her doctors while she was pregnant can be admitted into evidence against her at trial. Our amicus brief highlights the devastating public health consequences – along with the constitutional right violations – that result from creating a special exception to doctor-patient privilege, only for women who are or have been pregnant.

Police arrested Brooke Skylar Richardson for homicide in July 2017 in Ohio, after she experienced a stillbirth and then sought medical care. At her OB-GYN appointment, Ms. Richardson explained to her doctors that after she experienced a stillbirth she buried the remains in her backyard. Her doctors reported those statements to law enforcement, along with other earlier things she had said to them after she had learned that she was pregnant. Ms. Richardson was arrested and charged with homicide.

In the fall of 2018, Ms. Richardson asked the trial court to keep the things she said to her doctors confidential based on Ohio’s doctor-patient privilege. That court ruled against her, making it possible for those statements to be used against her at trial. Ms. Richardson appealed that ruling to the Twelfth Appellate District Court of Ohio and once again lost. In October of 2018, the Appellate Court held that, although she had not waived her doctor-patient privilege, Ms. Richardson’s statements to her doctors could be admitted in evidence against her at trial because she was pregnant at the time and her statements and behavior while pregnant could have an impact on a child.

Pregnancy Justice had reached out to Ms. Richardson’s defense counsel when the charges were first filed, and in late 2018, her counsel contacted us about their plan to seek Ohio Supreme Court review of the ruling taking away a pregnant woman’s right to medical privacy. Pregnancy Justice, along with the SIA Legal Team, submitted a friend of the court (amicus curiae) brief on behalf of our organizations as well as the National Perinatal Association, Center for Reproductive Rights and several other amici to the Ohio Supreme Court in December in support of Ms. Richardson’s request for review of the appellate court’s ruling. Our brief explains the serious consequences for public health and to pregnant women’s constitutional rights if the decision – which effectively creates an exception to doctor-patient privilege for pregnant women – is permitted to stand.