Late last year Marshae Jones, a 28-year-old living in Alabama, was shot in the stomach during a dispute with 23-year-old Ebony Jemison. At the time of the shooting, Jones was five months pregnant.
Although she survived, the foetus did not. And this week she found herself in court over the incident. It was there that a Jefferson County grand jury indicted her for manslaughter—of the foetus.
Jones was booked into jail on a $50,000 bond, according to authorities. The police argued that since Jones allegedly started the fight, Jemison only shot her in self-defence. And because Jones failed to get herself out of the situation, they reasoned, she’s culpable for what happened. (Police initially charged Jemison with manslaughter for the death of the foetus, but unlike in Jones’s case, she was ultimately not indicted, according to al.com.)
“The only true victim in this was the unborn baby,” Lieutenant Danny Reid of the Pleasant Grove Police Department said after the shooting in December, al.com reported. “It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby.”
This case comes in the midst of a heated national debate over a woman’s right to choose and whether a foetus should “count” as a person under the law. But it’s no surprise that this case is taking place in Alabama. Last month Alabama voted to pass the most severe restrictions on abortion nationwide. And 25 Republican male state senators passed a bill outlawing abortion from the moment of conception onward, without provisions for cases of even rape or incest. Doctors who perform the procedure could also be punished with life in prison. Alabama governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, then signed the bill into law. While it’s uncertain if the bill will go into effect, it sets up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade — the apparent goal of recent state-sponsored abortion restrictions.
Alabama is also one of the 38 states that has foetal homicide laws. In other words, in cases of violence against a pregnant woman, the foetus is recognized as a victim. That means a woman can be prosecuted if it’s believed she precipitated a miscarriage.
“When a five-month pregnant woman initiates a fight and attacks another person, I believe some responsibility lies with her as to any injury to her unborn child,” Reid also added. “That child is dependent on its mother to try to keep it from harm, and she shouldn’t seek out unnecessary physical altercations.”
The case has sparked national outrage, and has led to an outpouring of support for Jones across social media. As Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, put it: “Today, Marshae Jones was indicted for homicide when someone shot her in the stomach while she was pregnant, ending her pregnancy. They said she ‘started it.’ The shooter went free. This what 2019 looks like for a pregnant woman of color without means in a red state. This is now.”