The woman accused of murdering one of her twins by failing to undergo a timely Caesarean section pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of child endangerment.
Melissa Ann Rowland had been charged with murder for failing to follow doctors’ advice to undergo the procedure, which they said was necessary to save the life of her twins. Under a plea bargain, the murder charge was dropped.
Prosecutors said Rowland, 28, acted with “depraved indifference” when she allegedly ignored doctors’ repeated warnings to undergo a C-section to save the babies’ lives.
On Wednesday, she admitted using cocaine in the weeks before she finally underwent the C-section that produced a stillborn boy. The second child, a girl who survived and has been adopted, was found with cocaine and alcohol in her system.
Prison time possible
Rowland was sent back to jail after the hearing, during which she showed little emotion but appeared disappointed when the judge denied a request to release her from custody until sentencing on April 29.
Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend that Rowland receive concurrent terms of zero to five years in prison, court probation and admittance to a drug treatment program.
Rowland has said she never intended to kill her baby and was not informed she needed immediate surgery. She denied prosecutors’ allegations she was worried about a scar, saying she delivered two previous children through C-sections.
Her attorney, Michael Sikora, has said Rowland suffers from mental illness.
“She decided it was in her best interest to resolve the case as soon as possible, and I support her in the decision she made,” Sikora said outside the courtroom.
Opposition to charges
Salt Lake County prosecutor Langdon Fisher said the plea agreement was reached based on Rowland’s “mental health history.” Prosecutors had originally dropped the child-endangerment charge and planned to use evidence that Rowland used cocaine to bolster the murder charge.
“We believe these pleas are in the interest of justice,” Fisher said.
The National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union and others have said prosecutors went too far, calling the case a back-door effort to undermine abortion rights and an attack on a poor, possibly mentally ill person.
Legal experts said they do not know of any other instance in the United States in which a woman was charged with murder for refusing or delaying a C-section, though some women have been forced to undergo C-sections after their doctors obtained court orders.