In Depth

Why gunshot victim has been charged over death of her unborn baby

Marshae Jones, 27, to face manslaughter trial in Alabama after being shot

A 27-year-old woman in Alabama has been charged with manslaughter for allegedly starting a fight that resulted in the death of her unborn baby.

Police say Marshae Jones “initiated and continued the fight” that ended with her being shot in the stomach by another woman, Ebony Jemison. But while Jemison will not face prosecution, Jones has been indicted by a grand jury to stand trial for manslaughter.

The two women clashed outside a shop in the city of Pleasant Grove on 4 December 2018. The fight, reportedly over the baby’s father, ended with Jemison firing a single shot at Jones, who was five months pregnant. The bullet struck Jones in the stomach, killing the foetus.

Police officer Lieutenant Danny Reid told Alabama’s AL.com that Jemison had reacted to defend herself, and that he would not call Jones a shooting victim. 

“The investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby. She had no choice in being brought unnecessarily into a fight where she was relying on her mother for protection.”

Jones was charged only after a grand jury had failed to indict Jemison for manslaughter, notes the news site.

Why is the story gaining national attention?

CNN says the story is the latest of several controversial incidents in Alabama involving the legal status of unborn children. “Once again, Alabama is at the forefront of a nationwide debate over the rights of pregnant women,” the broadcaster notes.

In other cases, women have been charged for drug use during pregnancy or a car accident that resulted in the death of a foetus, The New York Times reports.

Earlier this year, Alabama passed the most restrictive abortion legislation in the US. A doctor who performs an abortion for any reason except risk to the life of the mother may now face up to 99 years in prison, although the law will almost certainly be overturned as incompatible with the federal right to abortion.

CNN says that the language used by police to describe the recent shooting incident – in particular, that the foetus was “relying on her mother for protection” – has “incensed critics who say Alabama keeps prioritising foetuses over women”.

And the reaction?

Amanda Reyes of the Yellowhammer Fund, which helps women travel out of Alabama to have abortions, said: “Marshae Jones is being charged with manslaughter for being pregnant and getting shot… The state of 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.”

The Guardian quotes Ilyse Hogue, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, who said: “This is what 2019 looks like for a pregnant woman of colour without means in a red state. This is now.”

The shooter, Jemison, told BuzzFeed News she felt Jones should take some responsibility for her actions, but added: “I don’t feel she should be charged with manslaughter because she didn’t go upon killing her baby herself… I don’t feel as if it’s fair for her to sit in jail after dealing with her losing her child situation.”

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