When expectant mother Marshae Jones was shot in the stomach last December, the 27-year-old woman survived, but her pregnancy did not. Now, Jones is behind bars and facing charges for the death of her five-month-old fetus.
On Wednesday, Jones was taken into custody after a jury in Jefferson County, Alabama, indicted her for manslaughter, according to Alabama newspaper group AL.com. She'll be held in jail until her trial unless she can post a $50,000 bond.
Meanwhile, the woman who shot Jones—23-year-old Ebony Jemison—is free. Police initially charged Jemison with manslaughter as well, but a grand jury did not indict.
Prosecutors allege that Jones started the altercation with Jemison, and that this makes Jones responsible for whatever happened as a result of her choice.
"It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby," said Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Danny Reid. "Let's not lose sight that the unborn baby is the victim here. She had no choice in being brought unnecessarily into a fight where she was relying on her mother for protection."
It's a terrifying interpretation of criminal justice—and one made especially poignant by taking place in a state that just criminalized almost all abortions and declared that fertilized eggs should have equal rights to the fully-formed women carrying them. Under this logic, pregnant women who are victims of violent crime could be held criminally liable anytime they're perceived to have done something to "invite" the violence against them.
Picking a physical fight, certainly picking a fight while pregnant, may not show the best judgment. But even if Jones did initiate the altercation, it does not follow that she knew or should have known her opponent was armed or that her opponent would use lethal force in response. Plenty of people—even sometimes pregnant women—get in altercations that don't end with anyone shooting anyone else.
Meanwhile, many more pregnant women engage in all sorts of behaviors that are probably OK but could harm a fetus if things go awry. Once we start holding women responsible for such unintentional harms, where do we draw the line? Is playing sports OK? Riding a bicycle? Is it OK to meet new people, even though they could turn out to be violent? What about driving on highways? Driving, period? Angering an abusive partner? Walking in a bad neighborhood?
"The state of Alabama has proven yet again that the moment a person becomes pregnant their sole responsibility is to produce a live, healthy baby and that it considers any action a pregnant person takes that might impede in that live birth to be a criminal act,'' said Amanda Reyes, executive director of abortion access group The Yellowhammer Fund, in a statement. "Today, Marshae Jones is being charged with manslaughter for being pregnant and getting shot while engaging in an altercation with a person who had a gun. Tomorrow, it will be another black woman, maybe for having a drink while pregnant. And after that, another, for not obtaining adequate prenatal care."