While reading Marie Claire magazine on a recent plane ride, I read this headline: “If an expectant mother survives a suicide attempt but her fetus doesn’t, is it murder?”
That question had never entered my mind before.
I continued reading Helen Coster’s article Bei Bei Shuai, a 34-year-old Chinese immigrant who came to the United States more than ten years ago. She was held in an Indiana jail for more than 14 months before being released on $50,000 bail in mid-May. Her crime? Attempting suicide when she was eight months pregnant. She ingested rat poison after being lied to and rejected by her married lover.
Shuai didn’t die. But her baby did.
A hospital was able to stabilize her and deliver the baby which died a few days later.
When the case was brought to the Indiana Supreme Court, it was denied a hearing and a murder trial is now scheduled for December. Shuai was charged with attempted murder and “feticide.” If convicted, she could serve up to 65 years in prison.
This case is revolutionary – never in Indiana’s history has a woman been tried for what has been done during her own pregnancy or to the fetus. The outcome of this case could set a precedent for other states, and even federal regulations.
The decision to prosecute stemmed from the 2004 Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act that 34 states use to charge individuals with homicide for the unlawful death of an unborn child. However, many lawmakers insist that these laws were not created to prosecute a mother, but rather protect them when they are victims of brutal crimes.
What Shuai did might seem unthinkable to some, but she’s not alone.
Christine Taylor, a pregnant mother of two, went to an Iowa emergency room after falling down a flight of stairs in her home.
She confided in the nurse assisting her, saying she has not initially wanted another child since she was separated from her husband. The nurse told authorities that Taylor had intentionally tried to end her pregnancy. Taylor spent two days in jail before the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Pro-life and pro-choice groups are both torn about the issue.
According to The Nation, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have created petitions for the support of Bei Bei Shuai. However, pro-life groups are taking a tight-lipped approach to the issue, not a common occurrence for such a vocal group.
It seems to me that the question isn’t about where life begins, but rather, what rights does that fetus have? Should their rights be equal to that of a born child or do rights begin outside of the womb? And what happens when the mental stability of the mother is in question?
My heart breaks a bit for Shuai. When someone is in a severely depressed mental state, suicide is often a major concern. I wonder if she thought that she was “saving” the baby from a life without a father, and sparing it from being raised by a mentally unfit mother. Or maybe she never felt the fetus in her body was a baby yet and was only thinking of her own life and its lack of purpose at that time.
What are your thoughts? It is not a crime to attempt to take your own life in the United States, but is it a crime when you are pregnant?
Danielle Herzog is a native New Yorker from a large Italian family. She’s a wife, mother of a 3 and 9-month-old and a not-embarrassed-to-admit-it fan of the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Read her adventures on www.martinisandminivans.com