It was only a matter of time before the national debate over fetal rights and abortion would lead to this: A woman in Alabama has been charged with manslaughter for allegedly being involved in an argument in December that ended when another woman shot her in the stomach. The victim was five months pregnant and lost her baby. The shooter has walked free.
The charges, filed last week, focus new scrutiny on Alabama over a new law that treats doctors who perform abortions as Class A felons subject to potential life imprisonment. The law bans abortions at any stage of pregnancy. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a law in May criminalizing abortions beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, with doctors subject to between five and 15 years of imprisonment.
Although women who seek abortions aren’t subject to prosecution under the new Alabama law, existing law defines “an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability as a person and human being for purposes of the state laws dealing with murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and assault.”
Against that backdrop, some zealous prosecutors and law enforcers undoubtedly feel they have a green light to determine motive and culpability when a pregnant woman is involved in situations that endanger the life of her fetus. Women are at increasing risk of becoming legally defined as mere reproductive vessels, with their own rights becoming subservient to those of the unborn.
Details of the Alabama case are not entirely clear. Marshae Jones, 27, of Birmingham, was five months pregnant when she got into an argument with Ebony Jemison, 23, regarding the unborn baby’s father. Jemison told BuzzFeed News that she tried to get away when the argument became too heated, but Jones allegedly persisted. Jemison got into her own car, grabbed a gun and shot Jones in the stomach.
“The investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby,” the website AL.com quoted Pleasant Grove, Ala., police Lt. Danny Reid as saying in December. He added ominously: “It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight, which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby.”
Jemison was originally charged with manslaughter in December, but a grand jury declined to indict her. The grand jury later indicted Jones.
It’s a patently ludicrous case. Prosecutors effectively must argue in court that Jemison had no other choice than to shoot Jones, though no life-threatening conditions appeared to exist. Far more difficult will be proving that Jones knew she would be shot if she persisted in confronting Jemison.
The case opens vast new avenues for prosecutors to go after pregnant women who smoke, drink, jaywalk, jog or even travel in a car that later is involved in an accident. This is exactly where “pro-life” zealotry is leading.