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Utah C-Section Mom Pleads Guilty

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 charged Rowland, 28, in March with one felony count of murder for exhibiting "depraved indifference to human life" by ignoring repeated doctors' warnings to have a C-section to save the lives of her babies.

She eventually gave birth by C-section to twins, one of whom was stillborn. The surviving baby, who was adopted, was found with cocaine and alcohol in her system.

Prosecutors had charged Rowland with exhibiting "depraved indifference to human life" in avoiding the C-section. One nurse told police Rowland said she would rather "lose one of the babies than be cut like that."

Rowland denied claims she avoided surgery because she feared scarring.

"It was all medical concern. None of it was vanity," Rowland said. Her other two young children, ages 7 and 9, both were delivered by C-section, she had said.

Her attorney, meanwhile, said she had a long history of mental illness. Rowland said she had attempted suicide twice and spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

Critics of the charges said the case could affect abortion rights and open the door to the prosecution of mothers who smoke, fail to follow their obstetrician's diet advice or take some other action that endangers a fetus.

"I see this as part of an overall focus of a certain movement on fetal rights and an effort to elevate fetal rights above the rights of a woman," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women and a former prosecutor.

Rowland, from the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan, was warned numerous times between Christmas and Jan. 9 that her unborn twins were likely to die if she did not get immediate medical treatment, charging documents alleged. When she delivered them Jan. 13, a baby girl survived but her twin, a boy, was stillborn.

Sentencing was set for April 29. She could receive zero to five years in prison on each count and up to a $5,000 fine.