Preborn child at 20 weeks gestation, or 22 weeks LMP - a new standard of viability, where the child can live outside the womb.

Dear Jezebel: fetal homicide laws exist to protect unborn babies

Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan got a few things wrong in her recent post, “When Laws Designed to Protect Pregnant Women End Up Imprisoning Them.” But that’s no surprise. Jezebel has missed the mark on more than one occasion. This time, the entire post is based on the inaccurate claim that fetal homicide laws were established to protect pregnant women. But these laws were put in place to protect unborn babies from harm and to allow prosecutors to charge anyone – except abortionists – who kills an unborn child with anything from battery to homicide. In some states, that includes the mother herself.

Pregnant Woman Attempts Suicide

When Bei Bei Shuai ingested rat poison at 33 weeks’ gestation and her baby girl did not survive, she was charged with fetal homicide. It didn’t matter to police that she was attempting suicide because her boyfriend had left her. Her actions led to the death of another human being, whether she mourned the loss of her child or not. It isn’t the first time a distraught mother has caused the death of her innocent child. Does Shuai deserve to receive mental health care based on her actions? Yes. But her daughter, named Angel, was old enough to be born healthy, and she deserved her life. Instead, she suffered a brain hemorrhage and died at just 4 days old because her mother poisoned her. It’s a heartbreaking situation. But the main reason Jezebel would have a problem with Shuai being arrested is because Jezebel fears that cases like this, and fetal homicide laws themselves, will help end legal abortion.

False Reports of a Push down the Stairs

Ryan also mentions Christine Taylor in the post, and she gets the details wrong. Ryan claims that Taylor, pregnant with her third child, was pushed down the stairs by her abusive husband, and then Taylor herself was charged with fetal homicide. That would be an appalling reason for a lawyer to charge a grieving, abused mother with murder (and I bet Ryan was betting on all of her readers becoming outraged at this). But according to a variety of reports, that’s not what happened. Taylor, according to Radio Iowa, went to the hospital, where she told the doctors that after a phone call from her estranged husband, she was distraught and distracted, causing her to trip and fall down the stairs. She said she came to the hospital to make sure her baby was okay, which the baby is. Based on the information given to the doctors, police arrested Taylor for attempted fetal homicide. However, the charges were dropped when Taylor’s actual doctor told police that she was not yet in her third trimester, since Iowa fetal homicide laws protect unborn children from their parents only after 28 weeks’ gestation.

Was Taylor attempting to kill her unborn child, or did she really trip and fall? Her visit to the ER implies that it was an accident, but only she knows for sure. Either way, Taylor isn’t being charged, and her baby is safe, and that’s what matters most. Readers were likely distressed by Jezebel’s false reports of the husband causing the fall and police placing the blame on the victim. In reality, police were following up as they are required to do, and while it’s unclear whether police went too far, both mother and baby are alive and well.

Homicide laws are in place to protect all of us, including pregnant women, from being murdered. But since unborn children have lost their right to life, and the value of their lives has therefore been diminished, fetal homicide laws were put in place to protect “wanted” unborn children from being unjustly killed. These laws are an attempt to get justice for the babies and closure for grieving parents. What’s ludicrous is that value of an unborn baby’s life is based solely on her mother’s opinion of her. Imagine if whether we lived or died depended on what one person thought. While abortion tells us that unborn babies don’t matter, fetal homicide laws prove that they do.

  • Guest

    Jezebel was indeed being (atypically) naive when it entertained the notion that proponents of fetal homicide laws have any interest in protecting pregnant women.

    When proponents of abortion rights argue that recriminalizing abortion will lead to prosecution of women who have abortions, pro-lifers claim that they are being disingenuous and that abortion opponents don’t want to put women in prison. Fetal homicide laws demonstrate that of course that’s what they want.

    •  Actually, what most pro-lifers argue against is the idea that all women whose pregnancies ends will get thrown in jail for life, no matter the circumstances (abortion, forced abortion, miscarriage, accident, etc). That doesn’t happen when people are accused of causing the death of a born person, so why would the police ignore circumstances when dealing with the death an unborn person?

      • Guest

        so why would the police ignore circumstances when dealing with the death an unborn person?

        I guess that’s a question you should direct towards the prosecutor who is charging a woman who attempted suicide while pregnant with a crime that carries a minimum sentence of 45 years in prison.  The obvious answer is that he thinks that women who bring about the end of their pregnancies should be thrown in jail for life. 

  • Oedipa

    Ms. Shuai’s case is, indeed, “heartbreaking”. But she’s not alone. There’s Rennie Gibbs of Mississippi, who was a 15-year old cocaine user, now facing a mandatory life sentence, after her baby was born stillborn at 36 weeks. Even though there’s no evidence that cocaine had anything to do with the baby’s death.

    Then there’s Amanda Kimbrough, a pro-life teenager from Alabama who was persuaded to abort when her fetus was diagnosed with Downs. She declined, had a caesarean, and the baby died 19 minutes later. Prosecutors now claim she did drugs during the pregnancy and she’s facing a 10-year sentence.

    In the Alabama case, Ms. Kimbrough is being prosecuted for “chemical endangerment”, a law that was initially designed to protect children from their parents or guardians that may be engaged in dangerous ad hoc meth labs. Despite your protestations that these laws are being executed as they were intended to be, Ms. Kimbrough’s case is an example of a rogue prosecutor twisting the law to punish the child bearer.

    South Carolina is another sad testing ground for these laws. Since passing it’s foetal homicide law, only one man has been prosecuted for assaulting a pregnant woman (it’s original intent), but up to 300 women have been arrested for their actions during pregnancy.

    And, yet, if you spend enough time in conservative circles, you hear that there’s really, really no “War on Women”.

    • That’s right. There is no “War on Women.” It’s a malicious fiction concocted by vile demagogues to exploit the fears and prejudices of the ignorant, and parroted by unprincipled hacks who are incapable of defending their position with honor.

      Unless you’re prepared to make the case that there’s some sort of contingent of pro-life and/or conservative politicians & activists who for some reason *want* girls prosecuted for innocent miscarriages, your examples mean approximately zilch. Incompetent and overzealous prosecutors are a sad fact of the criminal justice system…not an ideological cause or policy goal.

      • Jennifer Jonsson

        There’s no such thing as an “innocent miscarriage.” Miscarriages have always happened and always will. They’re a medical anomaly and they don’t happen to women that are innocent or guilty–they just happen. Some researchers estimate that half or more of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually before the woman ever knew she was pregnant. The idea that a woman could be investigated by the police because she lost her child–a child she may have desperately wanted and done nothing to harm–is just horrifying. I don’t want to live in that country.

        • Calvin Freiburger

          Your objection is based on a severe misreading of my comment. Nowhere do I claim or imply any sort of deeper meaning related to guilt or innocence about whether or not miscarriages “just happen.” Re-read the comment a little more carefully, and I think you’ll see that.

          • Jennifer Jonsson

            I reread your comment and I stand by my response. You want to differentiate the “good” women, who have “innocent miscarriages,” and “bad women,” who might have “done something” harmful, like take medication or have a “hooray, I’m pregnant” glass of champagne, or maybe go skiing. But you’re right about one thing; there is no “war on women”. It’s a war on democracy itself, using women as cannon fodder.

          • Calvin Freiburger

            Okay, I gave you the benefit of the doubt once that your ridiculous complaint was an innocent misunderstanding, but now you’re intentionally trying to pretend there’s something sinister behind my words, even though it’s completely obvious that I was merely using “innocent miscarriage” as shorthand for what Oedipa was talking about, to contrast that concept with what she feared prosecutors would misconstrue miscarriages as.

            “It’s a war on democracy itself, using women as cannon fodder.”

            *sigh* You actually think you said something profound here, don’t you?

  • Ingrid Heimark

    I realy don’t understand how someone can charge a woman with fetal homicide when the obvious plan was to commit suicide, she is mentally ill or depressed

  • Jennifer Jonsson

    You state that Angel Shuai “died at just 4 days old because her mother poisoned her.” THAT IS NOT TRUE. Authorities were never able to determine what killed Angel Shuai. The pathologist’s report was so sloppily performed that the Judge ruled it could not be used in court–an extremely rare ruling in a murder trial. As soon as she arrived at the hospital, Ms. Shual was given strong doses of several medications known to cause bleeding in utero, and the emergency C section, performed a few days later, might have also caused the bleeding. So Angel might have been killed by the very doctors who were trying to save her.

    Unfortunately, medical intervention does sometimes kill the patient. A dear friend of mine, who was suffering from terminal COPD and not expected to live for more than a few months, suddenly developed appendicitis. He was rushed to emergency surgery but the appendix burst during the procedure and he died on the operating table. It’s certain that he would have died without the surgery as well. The possibility of his death during surgery didn’t stop his doctors from doing the right–indeed, the only–thing they could do; Try to save him.

    Another example: My mother in law had her gallbladder removed shortly after suffering two major heart attacks. Her surgeon was very concerned she was too weak to survive the procedure, but he did it anyway because there was no other choice. She lived another six months, feisty as ever, before succumbing to a third and fatal heart attack.

    Bei Bei Shuai’s case is horrifying, but her behavior was not directed toward her newborn and it came about under the severe duress of mental illness. I have been that sick, though fortunately I never harmed anyone, and I can promise you that people in the throes of severe depression see things that aren’t there, believe things that aren’t true and sometimes harm themselves because it seems like the only thing left to do. Every state recognizes that a person can be not guilty of murder for reason of insanity, and that should have been obvious here. To call Bei Bei a poisoner or a murderer just isn’t fair.