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A Pregnant Woman in Alabama Was Shot in the Stomach. Police Charged Her for Her Fetus' Death.

"Tomorrow, it will be another black woman, maybe for having a drink while pregnant. And after that, another, for not obtaining adequate prenatal care."

by Emma Ockerman
Jun 27 2019, 2:15pm

An Alabama woman has been arrested and charged with manslaughter over the fatal shooting of her unborn child — but she didn’t fire the gun that ended her pregnancy.

Now, reproductive health advocates worry what those charges mean for women in a state where abortion has been severely restricted and fetuses have been given legal standing.

The mother, Marshae Jones, 27, was indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury Wednesday, according to AL.com. The manslaughter charge against her stems from an altercation outside of a Dollar General in 2018, when Jones was five months pregnant. She and a 23-year-old woman allegedly fought about the unborn baby’s father. It’s unclear who started the altercation, but police ultimately blamed Jones, who was shot in the stomach.

Police filed manslaughter charges against the shooter, Ebony Jemison, but the charge was later dismissed by a grand jury. Police have said she was defending herself against Jones, who’s being held on a $50,000 bond.

“When a five-months-pregnant woman initiates a fight and attacks another person, I believe some responsibility lies with her as to any injury to her unborn child,’’ Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Danny Reid told AL.com in December. “That child is dependent on its mother to try to keep it from harm, and she shouldn’t seek out unnecessary physical altercations.”

Advocates are concerned that the charges against Jones run dangerously close to a legal theory of “fetal personhood” or granting full legal rights and protections to an unborn child.

Alabama lawmakers have already embraced the concept of “fetal personhood” and based the state’s near-total ban on abortions (not yet in effect) on the concept earlier this year. Alabama was also the first state to enshrine fetal personhood in its constitution, and an Alabama judge allowed an aborted fetus to sue the clinic that performed the procedure in March.

Similarly, county sheriffs across Alabama regularly arrest women for “chemical endangerment of a child,” or using drugs while pregnant.

“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,” Amanda Reyes, executive director of the reproductive health nonprofit Yellowhammer Fund, said in a statement to AL.com.

The Yellowhammer Fund and other abortion rights groups worry Jones’ arrest could end up hindering access to reproductive care. The fund, which helps women pay for reproductive health services, said Alabama had shown it “considers any act a pregnant person takes that might impede in that live birth to be a criminal act.”

Cover image: Katie Collins/PA Wire URN:43487778 (Press Association via AP Images)