Criminal Justice

Woman Convicted of Manslaughter, Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison for Having a Miscarriage

Whatever this system is, it is not pro-life.

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Brittney Poolaw has been sitting in an Oklahoma jail for more than a year and a half. She will spend still more time behind bars, having been recently convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 4 years in prison for miscarrying her child last year.

In May 2020, Poolaw, then a teen, arrived at a local hospital after losing the fetus at 17 weeks. She was soon transferred to a cell and charged with the felony, on the theory that drug abuse had led to the fetus' demise.

At trial, the veracity of that claim was in doubt, with an expert witness for the prosecution testifying that Poolaw's drug use may not have been a direct cause of death. An autopsy concluded that the unborn child had tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine—but it also found a congenital abnormality, placental abruption, and chorioamnionitis, an infection associated with "maternal, perinatal, and long-term adverse outcomes," including stillbirth.

In other words, it's entirely possible that Poolaw's miscarriage had nothing to do with her behavior. "No expert at trial stated that her drug use caused the miscarriage," says Dana Sussman, deputy executive director for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "It's a confounding case on many levels."

Perhaps most confusing is how exactly Poolaw's prosecution fits with the state's current abortion laws, which allow women to terminate a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks' gestation. Though Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill in April that would outlaw abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, it was not slated to take effect until November 1 and has been temporarily blocked by the courts. Poolaw's pregnancy ended well before that.

And Poolaw wasn't even seeking an abortion: She had a miscarriage, possibly through no fault of her own, and she will now suffer a barrage of legal consequences not experienced by Oklahoma women who ask doctors to terminate their pregnancies.

"Last year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that criminal laws can be applied to pregnant women in the context of child abuse and child neglect, and therefore by extension manslaughter and murder, when the harm is felt by a viable fetus," says Sussman. (Viability is usually understood to begin at 24 weeks.) As a legal matter, Poolaw's conviction and sentence go against the foundation of how the U.S. approaches such issues.

I'm less interested in the legal argument, though, than in considering the deleterious effects of holding women criminally accountable when they lose a pregnancy. Such an approach, I believe, is not in fact "pro-life."

It should go without saying that taking meth is not a good idea. Doing so while pregnant is doubly irresponsible and reckless. But putting women on trial for poor choices that inadvertently harm their fetuses is the sort of slippery slope that will both punish undeserving people and harm the long-term health of women and babies.

That isn't a hypothetical. Sussman notes there are several similar prosecutions coming down the pipeline, and Poolaw's was by no means the first. There was Marshae Jones, an Alabama woman who in 2019 lost her child after she was shot in the stomach. The state alleged that she started the conflict, which then led to her being shot, which then led to her losing her fetus. "Even if Jones did initiate the altercation, it does not follow that she knew or should have known her opponent was armed or that her opponent would use lethal force in response," wrote Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown at the time. "Plenty of people—even sometimes pregnant women—get in altercations that don't end with anyone shooting anyone else."

Still more perplexing is this issue of inviting harm, and where the state decides to draw the line. Drinking alcohol in certain quantities during certain parts of pregnancy is sometimes associated with increased chance of miscarriage, but where exactly the deadly threshold is remains mired in uncertainty. Should a struggling alcoholic go to prison for maybe causing the death of her fetus? People have complex problems, and addictions aren't easily solved by throwing someone in prison for several years.

"Every single medical and public health association or organization in this country [has] condemned the use of criminal laws to address drug use and pregnancy," adds Sussman. "It sends a message that they should avoid prenatal care, that they should not be honest with their doctors, not try to get the help that they need, and puts them in a really difficult position to have healthy pregnancies." Poolaw showed up at a hospital of her own free will. Prosecutions like this make it less likely that others in her situation will do the same.

Get an abortion and you'll stay free, the state implies. But if you show up at a hospital for help during or after a miscarriage, we might imprison you for years. Whatever this system is, it is not pro-life.

NEXT: Dems Want to Soak the Rich by Snooping on the Poor

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  1. From the Chauvin trial we all know drug use boosts your immune system and makes your heart stronger

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    2. Seriously. Reason is defending a woman who poisoned her baby with multiple drugs.

      HEY BILLY HERE’S AN IDEA… MAYBE HER CHRONIC AMPHETAMINE USE AND OTHER SUBSTANCE USE IS WHAT CAUSED ALL THE DEFECTS AND ABNORMALITIES LEADING UP TO THE MISCARRIAGE YOU STUPID FUCK.

      I used to date a pediatrician who worked at rainbow babies, the childrens hospital in Cleveland. The fucking horror stories she had of these sub-human mothers, mostly all POC, coming in with multiple drugs in their system and giving birth the children with horrific development issues. Then the mother obviously gets a visit by child services and then arrested. And my ex gf would come home devastated because she couldn’t understand why these mothers did this, and since she was liberal she couldn’t bring herself to admit the cause is the issues and lack of education in Clevelands black community either.

      It’s such a fucking disgrace. But this is what POC get after decades and decades of Democrat control of their cities and lives dumbing them down to the slaves of the Democrat party they now are.

      1. So she is now your ex girlfriend because you’re an authoritarian douchebag?

        1. Ahh, it’s authoritarian to call out the issues plaguing our urban minority communities now.

          And we wonder why the issues are never resolved after decades of Democrat leadership.

          Theres an incredibly high chance this child developed the issues it did because of her drug and alcohol abuse. Fetal alcohol syndrome probably explains the majority of the chds issues. And The fact that the baby had amphetamines in its system means she used the drugs within 3 days of the miscarriage. She’s a terrible fucking person who more than likely poisoned her own child.

          I’m not going to allow her to make excuses.

          1. So I just read the actual details of the crime. This bitch was 17 weeks pregnant, almost half term. She definitely knew she was pregnant.

            And yet she still chose to use multiple drugs within days, if not hours, of her miscarriage.

            That’s unconscionable. It’s horrific. And it certainly should be criminal.

            1. If she had taken drugs with the intention of killing the baby, it would be legal.

      2. “No expert at trial stated that her drug use caused the miscarriage,” (from the article).
        Yes, *maybe* it did, but the standard of proof in criminal law is “beyond reasonable doubt”, and there also has to be evidence presented at trial, not just “m ex girlfriend said”.

  2. Women are baby-making slaves, if they don’t have enough fame, money, or power, to fight the courts of Government Almighty. If you miscarry or have pregnancy troubles while poor and powerless, go see your witch-doctor instead of the Government-Almighty-certified doctors. The witch doctors, at least, won’t imprison you!

    1. True, but the 13th Amendment says it isn’t slavery when the Political State forces young, unelected men to take up arms against distant women, kids, houses and villages, right? So wouldn’t it be kind of hypocritical to expect God’s Own Politicians to pass up a chance to likewise single out and coerce women into their involuntary Duty in the War against Race Suicide? The Law isn’t always a pretty thing, but it IS always an order to men with guns to kill every man, woman and child in several counties if that’s what it takes to make survivors obey. So obey already.

      1. Don’t blame the 13th Amendment for the draft. It was an idiotic Supreme Court decision that said any loyal American should be honored to be enslaved by the Armed Forces.

        1. Yeah. The 13th has *one* exception: as punishment for a crime. And the prohibition is one of the strongest. It’s not “Congress shall make no law”; it’s ” Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States”.

      2. I agree that the draft is slavery, but the term ‘race suicide’ means nothing.

  3. I don’t see the problem with this. The baby died, yes there might have been some other factors but she was convicted in court and got a trial. This would be no different as if the baby was killed after it was born. Hopefully after a few more or these women will be more careful and not kill babies.

    1. Your mercy knows no bounds.

    2. It’s so hard to keep track of who is a troll and who is a troll parody.

    3. Whatabout men who ruthlessly use condoms to deliberately deprive MILLIONS of tiny, helpless sperm cells of their Right to Life? A bailiff whacking _their_ pee-pees would set just as salutary an example, no?
      Yours in Christ, Libertariantranslator

      1. Whatabout men who ruthlessly use condoms to deliberately deprive MILLIONS of tiny, helpless sperm cells of their Right to Life?

        Exhibit A for why women shouldn’t do drugs while pregnant.

    4. Molly, you’re sick.

      Although we had four children who are grown now, my wife had two miscarriages as she aged. It’s devastating for a woman (and the dad) to suffer through. Prosecuting the woman in a case like this, particularly when serious defects with the child provide plenty of doubt as to cause, is monstrous.

      In your mind it’s fine for a pregnancy to be voluntarily terminated but if nature does it it’s a crime? You’re simply inhumane.

      1. My first wife and I had 5 miscarriages and a full-on stillbirth (placental abruption).

        She was an athlete and in excellent health, under intense medical care as a high risk pregnancy, on bed rest .. and still lost the baby. Then 5 more miscarriages.

        After the last miscarriage, she just left. Her job, her friends, me… Everything. It was too much to face. Just up and left one day, without even a note. Nobody heard from her for a couple of weeks.

        I am intimately familiar with the consequences of misscarriages.

        I have little patience for this legal theory.

        1. Cyto, I am so sorry that you and your ex had to go through that. I was my mother’s first child after 2 stillbirths and now that I am an adult she has talked to me about how painful and depressing it was.

  4. Only state certified experts can murder “clumps of cells”, not mothers.

  5. Weird how much different reason treats this case vs the George floyd case.

    1. Yes, I, too, would DEARLY love to know, WHY did Reason put Brittney Poolaw into an Oklahoma jail for more than a year and a half?!?! Damned NAZIs!!!!

      (Well, always look on the bright side of life! At least Reason didn’t KILL her, like they killed George Floyd!)

      1. Youre losing it sarc. Too many grey boxes?

    2. I am hard pressed to come up with similarities between this and the George Floyd case.

      Seriously, what in the hell are you talking about?

      1. Not all generic medications are truly the same as the name brand.

      2. Floyd’s health conditions and drugs in his system were dismissed out of hand as not contributing to his death. Here the defense is the congenital issues may have caused the babies death, so ignore the drugs.

        Sorry you are devoid of intelligent thought.

        1. What is REALLY, actually in common in both cases, is that power-hungry Government Almighty power pigs (and their apologists, like YOU, JesseBahnFuhrer) like to take very complex situations, and claim God-like powers to parse them all, and find a single guilty party to PUNISH-PUNISH-PUNISH, to satisfy their punishment boners! God-like powers to divine SOME way to blame the poor and the powerless, for the shit that the powerful dish out, all over the blamed and poor ones!

          (Now exactly WHAT root causes caused my just-now criminal disrespect for Government Almighty power pigs and their apologists, HOW can we blame ME instead of my genetics, drugs, and environmental upbringing, and what should be my punishment? How big is your punishment boner today?)

        2. The drugs probably caused the congenital issues.

          It’s kinda perplexing reason ignored that and acted like the first time this dumb cunt used meth was within 3 days (amphetamines are water soluble and usually only last a few days in your system) of her miscarriage.

        3. And reason is saying in both cases that the drugs were not the cause of death. No inconsistency at all. What are you even talking about?

          1. Bevis, did reason agree with he floyd conviction or not? Do they agree with this conviction or not? They are treating blame different in both cases.

            Again you left out the fact of floyds enlarged heart as a medical condition that even the prosecution admitted was a key parameter of the death. And the original autopsy report listed as THE cause of death along with drugs. Yet reason supported the conviction in spite of these facts.

            Here they say the health effects as the cause so manslaughter for drugs is invalid.

            They are acting in opposite.

            Do you honestly not see this?

            1. JesseBahnFuhrer seems to think that it’s OK for cops to become judge, jury, and executioner, squatting on the necks of people that they don’t like, choking off airflow for 12 or 13 minutes, so long as the system can find a coroner who will find some underlying health flaw, such that the cop-murdered victim would have died one of these years anyway… Copsuckers will be copsuckers! THAT is what is in common in these 2 cases!

  6. “it’s entirely possible that Poolaw’s miscarriage had nothing to do with her behavior”

    Yes, it’s possible there was an injustice. I haven’t studied to transcript or anything, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that the jury made a mistake and convicted an innocent person.

    “putting women on trial for poor choices that inadvertently harm their fetuses is the sort of slippery slope”

    Wait, now you’re discussing a *different* issue – whether she should have been punished if the jury was correct and she did in fact injure her baby with her drug-taking.

    That’s more dubious. Alas, people get wrongly convicted of criminal homicide all the time. Maybe this women was such a wrongly-convicted person (or maybe not, I don’t know). That’s hardly a reason to legalize criminal homicide. It’s a reason to punish the false accuser(s).

  7. Miscarriage of justice.

  8. As far as Marshae Jones is concerned, Wikipedia discusses her case

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alabama_v._Jones

    …and says the prosecutor dismissed the case in the interests of justice. Whether that meant she’s innocent or just that the prosecutor was looking for votes I don’t know and would not presume to speculate.

    But let’s assume another situation. A man (let’s not be sexist here) is holding a born baby in his arms and gets in a fight with someone else, showing indifference to the baby’s fate. He has the chance to bring the baby out of danger but decides it’s more important to have the fight. Then the other guy shoots at the man and the baby dies. Shouldn’t there be some liability in such a hypothetical case?

    If so, then what if the man is a pregnant woman (this is a hypothetical case, not the Jones case where she might be innocent). The pregnant woman is in a fight which she could escape with safety to herself and the child, but she chooses not to escape because she thinks the fight is more important. Then the other person shoots her. Wouldn’t the hypothetical woman be as blameworthy as the hypothetical man?

    1. Aren’t there some court cases that set some precedents about a man who kills a pregnant woman?

      1. I mean, in the end we’re talking about clumps of cells of different sizes, but still, some clumps of cells get more deference than others is my understanding.

        1. I’m being more of a dreamy idealist and discussing what the law *ought* to be, or how it *ought* to be interpreted. I’m not a big fan of what the courts declare the law to be where fetuses are concerned.

      2. Yes. Scott Peterson was convicted of double homicide for killing his pregnant wife. She apparently could shoot up all day and the unborn death would count for nothing.

        Women apparently have no agency.

        1. Women cannot be counted on to always do the right thing. Because they are bad at math.

          1. Ironically; the Women as-a [WE] group are 5% more Pro-Life than Pro-Choice and vice versa for men. You’re right; Women with power makes a bad mix due to their compulsive [WE] type thinking.

        2. If an abortion is legal until 20 weeks, does it matter if it was achieved through surgery, prescribed drugs, or illegal drugs?

          Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is happening when abortion is legal. Imagine what will happen if it is ever made illegal. Anti-abortionists who say they wouldn’t go after the mother are already going after the mother.

          Is filling the prisons with people who have abortions a societal good? Or is it like prison terms for drug possession (and no, not drug distribution, possession of drugs for personal use)? Do we really want to spend millions of dollars locking up women for miscarriages, never mind abortions?

        3. That is what fetal homicide laws are. They are very limited. There is no crime against a fetus unless the it is injured or killed, and even then only during the commission of specific crimes. They are a terrible category of laws, but people who want to look “tough on crime” need sentence escalators and pregnant women are a great vehicle for that. The fact that it makes any victim who isn’t a pregnant woman into a second-tier victim doesn’t seem to bother legislators.

  9. To Creation Scientists, it is a known fact that cannibal saliva (as reefer madness is known to the medical profession) messes with your chromiums. The AMA was a platform for Dr Farnsworth’s claims that LDO (a similar narcotic) “has the power” to make you batty as a fruitcake. Besides, it’s also settled science that hippie-types vote against “pro-life” nationalsocialists. This makes them anti-life, hence, manslaughterers, Q.E.D. All feminists need to be restrained by Texas vigilantes to keep this from happening.

    1. Drugs are bad, mm’kay?

  10. “Perhaps most confusing is how exactly Poolaw’s prosecution fits with the state’s current abortion laws, which allow women to terminate a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks’ gestation.”

    And there’s the rub. No doubt the prosecution hinged their case of manslaughter on the fact that the drug use “unintentionally” caused the demise of the fetus. They couldn’t charge her with murder because if it was intentional it would have fallen under any other abortion and wouldn’t be prosecutable. It’s surprising that her lawyers couldn’t see that coming or were too incompetent, lackadaisical, or just fucking around for a paycheck.

  11. That’s some serious Poo Law.

    1. I was waiting for someone to do that.

  12. If only Planned Parenthood had gotten paid, there wouldn’t be a problem.

  13. What about that mis-carriage from women that smokes!!! or drinks!!! or watches too much TV!!!

    Yep; all brought to you by the Power-Mad Pro-Life gang.
    ———- Individual Liberty and Justice ——————
    Can we at least attempt to take pride in what the USA was founded on.

  14. What is the delio, chemically induced abortion.

  15. Insanity. We seem to think the only response to anything is to lock them up. Mentally ill? Lock ’em up! Have a drink while pregnant? Lock ’em up! Have a miscarriage for any reason? Lock ’em up! Lock ’em up! Lock ’em up!

  16. “Alabama woman who in 2019 lost her child after she was shot in the stomach”
    Accomplice Liability laws should be aborted!

  17. The entire premise of Roe v Wade is that a fetus is not legally a person and has no rights. This seems to turn that on its head.

    1. Are you trying to imply that the law should at least be internally consistent?

      Yeah, we don’t do that.

      We don’t even bother with making sure that we follow the rules of English grammar.

      1. There are no official rules of english grammar.

    2. That is incorrect. Roe v Wade does not firmly opine on the personhood of the fetus, rather giving a nuanced view. Start at paragraph 86 here:
      https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/113

    3. “The entire premise of Roe v Wade is that a fetus is not legally a person and has no rights.”

      Wut?

      Can you quote any passage(s) from the ruling that remotely support this assertion?

      1. On the contrary, the ruling specifies that the state has a legitimate interest in the welfare of the fetus past a certain point of development. Hard to square that with the interpretation that the fetus “has no rights”.

        1. If a fetus can be aborted up to live birth, which Roe allows, wouldn’t that indicate that, at the federal level, a fetus does not have any rights?

          Plus, of course, there’s 1 US Code 8, a law passed by Congress and signed by the President that specifically defines person, individual, child, and human being for all federal legislation as requiring live birth.

          1. That’s incorrect. Roe allows prohibition of late-term abortions.

            1. Allows, but doesn’t require. If abortion is a possibility up until live birth, it stands to reason that a fetus doesn’t have any right?

                1. Yes, that is the article we are commenting about. This prosecution is weird, since it isn’t actually a fetal homicide law, it is about child abuse causing death. Which is still weird because viability is required for a prosecution, but it happened at 17 weeks, which is well before viability.

                  Any criminal law lawyers here who can explain how this is possible? Would it be a reason for appeal? Would it be sufficient to overturn the conviction?

  18. Women who use drugs during pregnancy should be punished, if not for any other reason than that under our current system, tax payers and society will have to suffer the consequences of their choices.

    1. Fuck off, slaver.

      1. Not only do you defend the ability of women to violate the rights of their offspring by turning them into crack babies, you want taxpayers like me to pay for it.

        Take your own advice: fuck off slaver. I would add to that that you are an evil prick.

        1. Wonder if you drive a car. Maybe we ought to hold you accountable for someone’s cancer and suffering. That could have been avoided by simply not driving, but you chose to do it. How cruel.

          1. Good example. I am already being charged for the cost my car imposes on society (roads, accidents, medical care, emissions, etc.), through specific taxes on my car and fuel. In addition, when the state can prove specific, negligent actions on my part, I am being held responsible, legally and financially.

            It should work the same way for mothers of crack babies.

    2. I don’t follow your thought process. How do taxpayers and society suffer consequences from pregnant women using drugs?

      As a side issue, do you believe that non-pregnant adults (men and women) should be allowed to legally use drugs? Basically, do you see this as unique to pregnant women or are you against voluntary drug use by any adult?

      1. NYOB2, these were questions for you. They are not sarcastic. I am truly wondering what you think, since we’ve has some good discussions in the past.

      2. I don’t follow your thought process. How do taxpayers and society suffer consequences from pregnant women using drugs?

        Society usually has to pay for the medical care, special education, and adult care of these babies.

        As a side issue, do you believe that non-pregnant adults (men and women) should be allowed to legally use drugs? Basically, do you see this as unique to pregnant women or are you against voluntary drug use by any adult?

        That depends on what you mean by “against”. I think drug use is often destructive and functioning societies need mechanisms to discourage it.

        In the libertarian approach, you legalize drugs but don’t socialize the cost of drug use (no tax-payer supported rehab, medical care, support, welfare, etc.); drug users then need face the unpleasant consequences of their choices. Private charities will usually still help drug users, but they can (and will) impose much stricter conditions as part of their aid.

        In the progressive society we live in, since the costs of drug use are socialized, society has the right (and arguably obligation) to penalize drug use in other ways.

        So, I’m for the legalization of drugs (just like I’m for open borders) as long as it is coupled with the abolition of the social welfare state.

        You cannot implement libertarian-style individual liberties while still implementing progressive-style socialization of the costs of people’s choices. Not only does that result in a dysfunctional society, it is a grave violation of the rights of taxpayers.

        1. I can get behind all of that. I’m not as dismissive of a social safety net, writ large, as you are but I think it should be limited to simple and basic support to maintain social stability. Things like Social Security (actual Social Security, not disability and all of the other things that have metastasized from it, with means testing), Medicare, and other senior-supporting programs that will allow people who have worked their whole lives in low-wage jobs to possibly not have to work until they die. There are returns on those kinds of investments that aren’t necessarily in dollars, but in avoided or managed costs and prevention of a “use and discard” societal attitude towards the elderly and the working poor.

          I agree that the public support, as opposed to private NGOs and philanthropic organizations, should be minimized or eliminated for adult drug addicts, but for the children we will have to invest in something for them, especially if abortion gets outlawed and we end up with a lot more children abandoned to the state.

          The argument against workfare (or ALMP, which is what we have instead of welfare) seems a little broad since the working poor are between a rock and a hard place, since their education and experience (which is in the past and can’t be changed) doesn’t give them much chance to advance and the trend in recent decades to direct labor dollars to upper-level management and C-suite officers has made the blue-collar paradigm of “work a full-time, unskilled job and be able to support a family” that existed from the 50s to the 80s/early 90s obsolete. I, personally, feel like there should be solutions available through the tax code, but there aren’t any models that I’ve found that seem like they manage to square that circle. There may be some that I haven’t read about that manage it. If you know of any, can you point me in their direction?

          But in terms of people who make personal choices that turn out poorly (drug addicts, smokers with lung cancer, drunk drivers, or whatever “this is dangerous to your health and safety” activity), I agree that the government shouldn’t bear the cost.

          That said, I don’t think the liberalization of “sin laws” (drugs, alcohol, prostitution, smoking, vaping) should wait on a perfectly-calibrated social system. Of course, I also believe that the evidence we have from comparisons between countries like America with more restrictive alcohol laws and those with much more liberal laws shows that restrictions, especially in the teenage demographic, lead to higher levels of abuse and addiction. So I do believe that the demand on social services would decrease with more libertarian approaches to those activities.

          Are you a fan of eliminating social safety net programs entirely? Or in reigning them in with means-testing or “mutual obligation” elements? Or something even more radical like UBI?

  19. I’m trying (unsuccessfully) to come with any other example in the law where unintentional conduct is illegal and the very same conduct done intentionally is legal.

  20. I find it really hard to get worked up over the “right” to be a dirtbag mother and kill your kids. All the abortion fetishizing is slowly making me less and less sympathetic to the whole idea.

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  22. “At trial, the veracity of that claim was in doubt, with an expert witness for the PROSECUTION testifying that Poolaw’s drug use may not have been a direct cause of death.”

    There was a similar situation in the David Westerfield trial in 2002 – he was charged with kidnapping and killing Danielle van Dam. An expert witness for the prosecution, a forensic entomologist, testified that she most likely died several days AFTER he had been placed under round-the-clock police surveillance. (The police’s regular expert placed her death even LATER than that! So he testified for the defense!) Another expert witness for the prosecution, a forensic anthropologist, testified that she most likely died BEFORE she was last seen alive!

  23. If abortion is legal up to 20 weeks, and she takes drugs that cause a miscarriage, what’s the difference?

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