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Alabama Woman Charged With Intentionally Causing Her Fetus' Death

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Maybe you've heard of this case that's drawn a lot of outrage across the country. An Alabama woman has been charged with manslaughter in the death of the fetus she was carrying. Her name is Marshae Jones, and she was five months pregnant when officials say she started a fight with another woman, who then shot Jones in the stomach in self-defense. A grand jury dropped charges against the shooter and instead decided that Jones, quote, "had intentionally caused the death" of her fetus by starting the fight.

Mary Scott Hodgin from member station WBHM has the latest on how people in Alabama are reacting.

MARY SCOTT HODGIN, BYLINE: Pleasant Grove is a small town about 10 miles outside of Birmingham, Ala. It's a quiet place with one grocery store, a few restaurants and a gun shop. This is where Marshae Jones got into a fight with Ebony Jemison. It's a case that's garnered national and even international attention.

Jack's Restaurant is in the same shopping plaza where the fight happened. Local residents are gathered for breakfast. Some of them, like Fred Gipson, say they don't think the indictment against Jones is fair.

FRED GIPSON: I don't think she should've been charged with killing her baby. That don't make sense to me. She didn't want the baby dead.

SCOTT HODGIN: For others, it's not so clear. Anna Lake has been following the story in the news and says she's not sure about the legal details. But when a woman is pregnant, she says, she's responsible for protecting her fetus.

ANNA LAKE: I definitely think the baby was a life that was lost because of the unfortunate circumstances.

SCOTT HODGIN: So does the state of Alabama. It recognizes a fetus as a person in cases of criminal homicide or assault. So when Jones allegedly started the fight that led the other woman to shoot her in the stomach, the grand jury said she intentionally caused the death of a separate person - in this case, her own fetus.

But Jones's legal team says state law doesn't allow for a woman to be prosecuted for manslaughter in the death of her fetus. Mark White is one of the attorneys on the case.

MARK WHITE: I don't know why this was manipulated to get this result, but it is unprecedented.

SCOTT HODGIN: Jenny Carroll is a law professor at the University of Alabama. She says, when it comes to recognizing the rights of a fetus, Alabama already stands out. Hundreds of women have been prosecuted for using drugs during pregnancy under the state's chemical endangerment law. Alabama recently passed one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. And now, the charges against Marshae Jones...

JENNY CARROLL: The way the state is treating the fetus in this case and in all these other laws we've just talked about is - it is creating new liability for mothers that doesn't exist for anyone else.

SCOTT HODGIN: Back in Pleasant Grove, in the parking lot where the fight broke out, resident LaTasha Currington says she understands the woman who shot Jones was allegedly acting in self-defense, and she also feels the fetus counts as a person. But she says Jones shouldn't go to jail.

LATASHA CURRINGTON: She lost her child, then she has to pay for losing her child. That's kind of harsh and sad at the same time.

SCOTT HODGIN: In a statement last week, officials with the local district attorney's office said they're evaluating the charges against Jones and deciding whether or not to prosecute her. Yesterday, Jones's legal team filed a motion to dismiss the indictment. A hearing is scheduled for July 9. For NPR News, I'm Mary Scott Hodgin in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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