In a shocking legal case out of Alabama, a pregnant woman who was shot in the stomach has been charged with manslaughter after she miscarried, AL.com first reported this week. The case has drawn criticism from experts who believe that fetal personhood, an apparent issue in this case, could jeopardize the rights of pregnant people in Alabama and across America.
UPDATE: Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynniece Washington announced during a conference held Wednesday, July 3 that her office will dismiss the case against Jones, according to ABC News.
"These citizens took the evidence presented them by the Pleasant Grove Police Department and made what they believed to be a reasonable decision to indict Ms. Jones,’’ she said in part. “The members of the grand jury took to heart that the life of an unborn child was violently ended and believed someone should be held accountable. But in the interest of all concerned, we are not prosecuting this case.”
EARLIER: Marshae Jones, 27, was indicted on a manslaughter charge Wednesday, less than one year after she was involved in a December 2018 shooting. The shooting incident occurred outside of a Dollar General store in Pleasant Grove, Alabama when Jones was 5 months pregnant at the time, according to The New York Times.
Before the shooting, Jones reportedly got into an argument with Ebony Jemison, 23, and the altercation escalated into violence, with Jemison shooting Jones in the stomach, according to The Washington Post. Jones was taken to the hospital for treatment, but her unborn fetus — a girl — did not survive.
Jemison was arrested and charged with manslaughter after the shooting, but a grand jury failed to indict her on the charge, reportedly determining she was acting in self-defense, according to AL.com.
As for Jones, she wasn't immediately arrested, but Pleasant Grove police Lt. Danny Reid said at the time that he planned to present her supposed involvement in the death of her unborn fetus to a grand jury, arguing that she was to blame for the fight. "When a 5-month pregnant woman initiates a fight and attacks another person, I believe some responsibility lies with her as to any injury to her unborn child,’’ he said, according to The Daily Beast.
Reid also argued that the "only true victim" in the case was the baby, stating, according to USA Today: "The investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby. It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby... Let’s not lose sight that the unborn baby is the victim here. She had no choice in being brought unnecessarily into a fight where she was relying on her mother for protection."
A grand jury ultimately indicted Jones on Wednesday, charging her with manslaughter for the death of her unborn fetus. In Alabama, manslaughter is a "Class B felony and the possible prison sentence is 2-20 years," according to legal website Find Law.
The Pleasant Grove Police Department and The Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney's Office didn't respond to Romper's requests for comment regarding the indictment.
The identity of Jones' lawyer is unclear at this time, but the Yellowhammer Fund, an organization that "provides funding for anyone seeking care at one of Alabama's three abortion clinics and will help with other barriers to access," said in an email statement to Romper that it's working to ensure that Jones "is released from jail on bond." The organization is also "assisting with her legal representation, and working to ensure that she gets justice for the multiple attacks that she has endured," the statement continued.
It goes without saying that there are a lot of issues at play in Jones' case, one being the problem of fetal personhood. Assigning a fetus rights is a slippery slope, as it can allow for pregnant people to be unjustly criminalized in the event that their pregnancy is terminated.
"Do not doubt for one moment that this is a one off event — this is in fact a new beginning," Amanda Reyes, Executive Director at the Yellowhammer Fund, said in a statement shared with Romper. "Today, Marshae Jones is being charged with manslaughter for being pregnant and getting shot while engaging in an altercation with a person who had a gun. Tomorrow, it will be another black woman, maybe for having a drink while pregnant. And after that, another, for not obtaining adequate prenatal care."
Another dangerous example of fetal personhood? Back in March, a judge in Alabama ruled that a man could sue his ex-girlfriend on behalf of her aborted fetus, claiming that she terminated the pregnancy against his wishes.
As demonstrated in these cases, when you place the rights of a fetus above a pregnant person, you chip away at reproductive rights at large. Forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term — whether it be by the threat of a lawsuit or the possibility of arrest — threatens a person's right to choose.
Furthermore, this case seems to suggest that people in Alabama could be criminally charged in relation to their pregnancies, as prosecutors have done in Jones' case. Farah Diaz-Tello, Senior Legal Counsel at If/When/How, tells Romper that this goes against provisions the Alabama legislature put in place to protect pregnant women from criminalization. "Alabama’s fetal harm laws specifically prohibit charges against pregnant people with respect to their own pregnancies, and the prosecutor has chosen to disregard this legislative protection," Diaz-Tello explains.
"This prosecution just shows the lengths to which a prosecutor will go to disregard the law once they are intent on punishing someone for the outcome of a pregnancy," Diaz-Tello said in a statement. "When the Alabama legislature created the laws prohibiting harm to fetuses, it put in provisions to ensure that pregnant Alabamians won’t be charged in relation to their own pregnancies. Those protections have been ignored in this case, which should be alarming to anyone who is counting on the protections from prosecution put in place in Alabama’s recently-passed abortion ban."
Diaz-Tello continued, "If prosecutors are willing to criminalize a woman shot in the abdomen as a perpetrator of harm against the pregnancy she lost, it seems inevitable that they will try to punish Alabamians who end their own pregnancies. This is prosecutorial overreach at its most deplorable."
Last but not least, this case seemingly hinges on victim blaming. It wasn't Jones fault that she was shot, or that the shooting resulted in the death of her unborn fetus. There is no excuse for violence, and getting into an argument with someone doesn't mean you deserve to be assaulted or lose your pregnancy. And, as Dr. Ann Olivarius pointed out on Twitter, victim blaming sets a dangerous precedent for pregnant people in general.
"Will pregnant women who miscarry from, say, domestic violence also be indicted for causing the death of their fetus for not leaving earlier?" she asked.
Diaz-Tello also tells Romper that "this kind of unlawful prosecution can happen virtually anywhere, and has happened in nearly every state regardless of their abortion policies or political leanings."
"Given that this is coming up at a moment when criminalization of abortion is in the spotlight in Alabama, it seems unsurprising that pregnancy losses would also come under criminal suspicion, but this is not limited to Alabama by any means," Diaz-Tello explains.
From the abortion ban in May to the case against Jones, Alabama has taken some scary steps recently to deny people access to their constitutional rights and safety. According to Diaz-Tello, Jones is fortunately at "a pre-trial phase in the case where she can still challenge the charges, including whether this law even applies at all." There's not been a conviction and Diaz-Tello explains "there is still an opportunity for the prosecutor to uphold their oath to serve justice and drop the charges."
And hopefully they do, because Jones' indictment is just another example of how the state is ignoring the needs and rights of its pregnant constituents.