An Alabama woman who suffered a miscarriage after another woman shot her in the stomach will not face manslaughter charges, the local prosecutor announced last week.
The case of Marshae Jones generated an intense outcry across the country shortly after a grand jury indicted her in late June. According to police, Jones started an altercation late last year that ended with her suffering the gunshot wound. Police arrested the shooter on manslaughter charges, but a grand jury chose not to indict her, presumably concluding that the woman was acting in self-defense. It instead chose to indict Jones on the same charge, finding that by starting the fight, it was her own fault that she lost her pregnancy.
Jefferson County District Attorney Lynneice Washington said in a press conference that it was “not in the best interest of justice to pursue prosecution” of Jones on the manslaughter charge. But that only came after many women’s and reproductive rights groups bashed Washington’s office.
They now see Jones’ indictment by the grand jury as just another way that the politics surrounding abortion and “fetal personhood” debates are intruding into everyday matters. The executive director of The Yellowhammer Fund, which helps women seeking abortions in Alabama, said the indictment shows 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.”
While Jones will be going free, some legal experts are worried about the precedent set by the indictment. Alabama voters passed a referendum in 2018 extending the same rights to unborn fetuses as all people. Opponents of the measure argued that it was paving the way for the outlawing of abortion in the state. However, experts worry that the law could set a dangerous precedent for any miscarriage, no matter the circumstances.
“What if you trip down the stairs and fall down? Where is the line if you hold mothers accountable for things like this?” said Carliss Chatman, an assistant law professor at Washington and Lee University.
State authorities have also faced heavy criticism for interpreting the state’s “chemical endangerment of a child” statute to prosecute hundreds of mothers for exposing fetuses to controlled substances, even in safe amounts.
One thing is for certain: The debate surrounding abortion rights is getting hotter as we approach the 2020 election. And it could ensnare more women like Jones.