Prosecutors decided not the pursue a murder or manslaughter charge against Amber Abreu, 18, of Lawrence, because it would have been too difficult to prove the case in court, a spokesman for the Essex County District Attorney said yesterday.
But Abreu will face a charge of procuring a miscarriage, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in jail.
She will face that charge in Superior Court, since an Essex County grand jury yesterday handed up an indictment against her. She will be arraigned on the new charge in the next two weeks.
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero had wanted to bring a more serious manslaughter charge against Abreu, but ultimately was powerless to decide whether it would stick in court.
"The decision on how to pursue the case is that of the DA's Office," Romero said. "The DA makes the decision."
Steve O'Connell, spokesman for the district attorney's office, said the decision was made because it would have been hard to show that the baby could have been expected to survive after being born so early.
Abreu went to Lawrence General Hospital on Jan. 6, complaining of abdominal pains. Shortly thereafter she gave birth to her daughter, who weighed just 11/4pounds. The baby, a girl named Ashney, was taken to New England Medical Center in Boston where she died four days later.
Prosecutors believe Abreu was 25 weeks pregnant.
It is alleged that Abreu took the prescription drug misoprostol, commonly used to prevent ulcers but also contained in the abortion pill RU-486.
Romero noted that Abreu could still spend time behind bars on the lesser charge of procuring a miscarriage.
"The charges are serious charges," he said.
Massachusetts General Law prohibits the use of any poison, drug, medicine or other noxious thing to be used to procure a miscarriage. The law can be used against the mother or anyone who administers, advises or prescribes her any such method to procure a miscarriage.
At the time, police said Abreu admitted to investigators she took three pills over two days.