In 2018 27-year old Marshae Jones was five months pregnant when she got into an argument with Ebony Jemison outside a store in Birmingham, Alabama. The argument escalated and the pregnant Jones was shot in the stomach. Jones was rushed to the hospital but the shooting caused a miscarriage that ended her pregnancy.
Police initially charged the shooter with manslaughter, but the grand jury found that the shooter was acting in self-defense and declined to indict her.
Recently, however, an Alabama grand jury charged Jones, the pregnant woman who had been shot, with manslaughter of her lost fetus. Local police Lt. Danny Reid said, “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.” Reid continued, “Let’s not lose sight that the unborn baby is the victim here,” Reid said. “She had no choice in being brought unnecessarily into a fight where she was relying on her mother for protection.”
Marshae Jones is now in jail on a $50,000 bond. However, prosecutors in Alabama said that they have not decided whether Jones will actually face prosecution for the death of her fetus.
Could Jones have possibly foreseen that she would be shot? Perhaps not. But if she did initiate and continue the fight, could she have foreseen that she could be physically injured?
Alabama is among 38 states that have fetal homicide laws recognizing the fetus as a victim in cases of violence against a pregnant woman, including California. California Penal Code § 187(a) defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought.
Alabama recognizes a fetus at any stage of development as a “person” for criminal homicide or assaults, with an exception for abortion, although this exception is likely to be challenged. Alabama also leads the country in mothers charged with crimes related to pregnancy, namely under the “chemical endangerment of a child” statute.
What do you think? Is this a handmaid’s tale? Will laws and prosecutions like this lead pregnant women to fear prosecution if they exercise and have a miscarriage, defend themselves in a fight that might result in a miscarriage, or have a bit too much alcohol, etc?
Or is no different from a parent who pushes a child in a stroller into a busy traffic without regard for crosswalk lights? What if Jones was holding a newborn baby while initiating and continuing a fight? Most people would say she should put the baby down first, then fight. Does it all come down to whether you believe the fetus is a “person?”