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Culture

Indicting a pregnant woman for manslaughter when someone else shoots her fetus is next-level Handmaid's Tale B.S.

This indictment should scare us all.

Indicting a pregnant woman for manslaughter when someone else shoots her fetus is next-level Handmaid's Tale B.S.
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It's only been a handful of weeks since Alabama legislators signed into law a bill that criminalizes almost all abortions and a mere couple of months since an Alabama judge heard a case in which a fetus was legally recognized as a co-plaintiff in a "wrongful death" abortion suit.

Opponents warned of the dangerous precedent being set because of what such legal actions could mean for miscarriage or other fetal deaths. Now we're seeing that precedent being played out in real time.

Here's the story:

Marshae Jones, 27, was five months pregnant in December of 2018 when she got into an altercation with Ebony Jemison, 23. The two were allegedly fighting over the father of Jones's baby.

Jones initiated the fight—that part of the story is not in dispute. During the fight, Jemison, reportedly in an act of self-defense, pulled out her gun and shot Jones in the stomach, resulting in the baby in utero's death.

Jemison, the shooter, was not indicted. A grand jury found she was acting in self-defense.


Instead, Jones—the pregnant woman—was indicted for manslaughter. Not assault for fighting with Jemison, but manslaughter for the death of her own fetus.

Just to reiterate, an unarmed, 5-month pregnant woman was shot in the stomach after getting into a fight, lost her baby, and she's the one who was indicted for manslaughter.

That is seriously messed up, Alabama.

But what's even more messed up are the number of people I've seen defending this ruling. "She shouldn't have started a fight," people say. "When you're pregnant, the safety of your baby should be your first priority." "She was being irresponsible and putting her baby at risk."

Here's the problem with those arguments:

There are a million things that can go wrong in a pregnancy without a pregnant person ever doing a darn thing. And there are accidents that can affect a pregnancy without there being any malicious or negligent intent whatsoever. When we start to hold pregnant women legally responsible for the viability of their pregnancies, we start down a terrifying path.


What about the mom who wears socks while walking down her wood steps, slips and falls, and loses her pregnancy? Will she be indicted for manslaughter because of her reckless behavior of wearing socks on a slippery floor?

What about the mom who eats some brie not knowing there's any risk for pregnant women, gets listeria, and loses her baby? Will she be indicted for negligent homicide?

What about the mom who is in an abusive relationship and is too afraid to leave? If her partner beats her up and the baby dies, does she get indicted for manslaughter because she stayed?

What about the mom who gets into a fight with her husband and he shoots her in the stomach? Imagine indicting the mother for manslaughter in that scenario.

How about the mom who keeps getting pregnant despite having multiple miscarriages? Will she be indicted for losing those pregnancies because she knows her body might not be a safe place for a baby?

What's super scary is that I think there are people out there who would answer yes to some or all of those questions. Even if you believe an embryo or fetus is a full-fledged human being deserving of the same rights and liberties as everyone else, making pregnant women legally culpable when they lose a pregnancy, either by accident or at the hands of another person, is asinine.

This indictment should scare the crap out of all of us. No one forced Jemison to fire that gun. She can claim self-defense and avoid being indicted herself, and that's fine. Charge Jones with assault; that's fine too. But to indict a pregnant woman for manslaughter because someone else shot her in the stomach? No. That's just a slippery slope into Handmaid's Tale levels of control over pregnant women that I simply can't comprehend.


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All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

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This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


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