A pregnant woman who was shot in the stomach was charged in her baby’s death
A 27-year-old Alabama woman was indicted on manslaughter charges Wednesday in the shooting death of her own unborn child, even though, police say, another woman pulled the trigger.
The moment quickly became a flashpoint in the broader debate over abortion, particularly in Alabama, and raised questions over how fairly manslaughter charges can be applied in the state.
Marshae Jones of Birmingham, was five months pregnant on Dec. 4 when an argument began between her and another woman outside a Dollar General, AL.com reported. The fight, which police said was over the fetus’ father, led 23-year-old Ebony Jemison to shoot Jones in the stomach. The mother survived the shooting, but it resulted in a miscarriage.
Marshae Jones, who was five-months-pregnant, allegedly attacked Ebony Jemison over a guy.https://t.co/1Iui4kFS1O
— BET News (@BETNews) June 27, 2019
Jemison was charged with manslaughter, but a grand jury failed to indict her, and the charge was dismissed, according to AL.com. At the time, police alleged that Jones started the argument and that Jemison shot Jones in self-defense.
But on Wednesday, a grand jury indicted Jones on a manslaughter charge, AL.com reported. She was being held Thursday on a $50,000 at the Jefferson County Jail, records show. It is not clear whether Jones has an attorney.
“The investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby,” Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Danny Reid said in December, in the days after the shooting. “It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby.”
Lynneice Washington, the district attorney for Jefferson County’s Bessemer division who will handle the case, did not return multiple requests for comment. Multiple calls to the Pleasant Grove Police Department ended in busy signals.
Alabama is among 38 states with laws that classify fetuses as victims in homicide or assault, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Alabama, a “person” includes unborn children in any stage of development.
Richard Jaffe, a criminal defense attorney in Birmingham, said he was shocked Jones was charged with manslaughter, which in Alabama can apply to someone who negligently causes another person’s death after ignoring a known risk.
“No one expects to be shot or wants to be. To charge this person is astonishing to me,” Jaffe told The Washington Post on Thursday. “She is probably going through enough grief as it is.”
He said manslaughter charges had been misapplied by a “huge stretch” over what can be considered a known risk. One pending case of his, Jaffe said, involves a client who threw his keys across a highway. His wife went to retrieve them. She was struck and killed, and the man was charged with manslaughter.
In both cases, Jaffe said, it is difficult to prove the person ignored an anticipated danger or reaction.
Abortion and pregnancy rights groups quickly seized on the incident with Jones as further evidence of Alabama criminalizing pregnancy.
Alabama has become the epicenter for reproductive rights advocacy after it passed the most stringent abortion laws in the country, outlawing the procedure except when necessary to save the mother’s life.
Jaffe said he was not sure whether that new law was directly relevant in Jones’s case or whether prosecutors could argue the miscarriage counted as unlawful intervention.
But Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told the Associated Press that Alabama leads the nation in mothers charged with crimes related to pregnancy, including the “chemical engagement of a child” statute reserved for exposing embryos or fetuses to controlled substances.
“This takes us to a new level of inhumanity and illegality toward pregnant women,” Paltrow told the AP. “I can’t think of any other circumstance where a person who themselves is a victim of a crime is treated as the criminal.”
Amanda Reyes, the executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund, part of a nationwide umbrella advocacy group, said Alabama “has proven yet again that the moment a person becomes pregnant their sole responsibility is to produce a live, healthy baby and that it considers any action a pregnant person takes that might impede in that live birth to be a criminal act.”
She continued: “Tomorrow, it will be another black woman, maybe for having a drink while pregnant. And after that, another, for not obtaining adequate prenatal care,” Reyes said in a statement, AL.com reported.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said on Twitter: “This what 2019 looks like for a pregnant woman of color without means in a red state. This is now.”