When Laws Designed to Protect Pregnant Women End Up Imprisoning Them

In 2002, Bei Bei Shuai, 33 weeks pregnant, attempted to kill herself after her boyfriend left her. The Indiana woman didn't succeed — but her daughter was born early as a result, and died shortly thereafter. Now, the state's used laws that were allegedly designed to protect pregnant women from violence to imprison Shuai for murder and "attempted fetal homicide." She's finally been granted bail today, after being incarcerated for over a year.

Her case is pretty heavy for a Friday afternoon, but it highlights just how easily laws designed to "protect" the fetus can be flipped to target pregnant women. So-called "fetal harm" laws allow the state to charge assailants who target pregnant women with greater crimes if a woman's pregnancy is harmed, but in Shuai's case, it's been applied to treat her as chattel. Thirty-six states currently have fetal harm laws on the books.

Shuai, a Chinese immigrant, consented to every medical procedure medical professionals suggested to save her baby after her suicide attempt. She named her baby "Angel" and was devastated when the child was taken off of life support three days after her birth. As a result of her baby's death, Shuai suffered a mental breakdown and remained in the hospital for a month, and after she was sent home, she was arrested for attempted feticide and murder.

Attorneys have fought tirelessly to get Shuai out of jail and clear her of these clearly bullshit charges, arguing that Indiana's law defining feticide is so broad that it could feasibly be used to charge any pregnant woman with murder or attempted murder for pretty much anything they did— even if the action wasn't intended to end their pregnancy. Think that sounds far-fetched? Consider the case of Iowan Christine Taylor, who was thrown down a staircase by her abusive husband and subsequently suffered a miscarriage. As a result, Christine was charged with attempted fetal homicide.

NPR reports that organizations that are usually the first to rush to the defense of fetuses have been completely mum on the case of Shuai — it's almost as though groups that fight the hardest for "fetal harm" laws they don't care about the women enclosing the fetuses at all! Excuse me while I take a nap of surprise and shock!

For more hypocrisy: lawmakers and lobbying organizations that aim to make it a crime to harm zygotes or whatever aren't often the same lawmakers who are trying to ban fracking, which can release chemicals into the water supply that can lead to devastating or deadly birth defects. They're not the same lawmakers trying to funnel more money into anti-domestic violence programs so that pregnant women are able to escape potentially dangerous situations. They're not trying to compel chemical manufacturers to thoroughly vet all pesticides and fertilizers to make sure that no chemicals sprayed on food could possibly harm a pregnancy.

Shuai was finally granted bond today, but can't afford to pay it the $5,000 it will cost to spring her from prison. She's now penniless — she's been out of the workforce for a year, with no chance to earn any money. A defense fund has been set up on Shuai's behalf, and there's a petition to be signed as well.

But don't put those debit cards away after making a contribution to Shuai's fund — as long as laws designed to "protect" pregnant women can be flipped to target them, this is far from the last time we can expect to see something like this happen.

[NPR]