An Alabama grand jury indicted Marshae Jones, a 27-year old black woman, with manslaughter for allegedly starting and getting into a fight for which she was shot. The gunshot resulted in the death of her unborn baby. Alabama prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine if they should pursue the charges. Every prosecutor’s office has discretion to determine which cases are brought and charged—regardless of a grand jury indictment. The fact remains that a prosecutor went before a grand jury seeking the charges, in the first place.
Alabama recently passed restrictive abortion laws which subject a woman to jail time for receiving an abortion and doctors up to 99 years in jail for performing an abortion. Ultimately, the law or similar ones recently passed in other states may end up at the Supreme Court.
America – are you listening? Alabama’s barbaric abortion law should be a wake -up call with sirens blasting for every woman and every man who has a wife, mother, sister, daughter or girlfriend. These laws intend to punish women in every which way that they can for failing to bring a fetus to full term and delivery. They care more about the unborn fetus than the life of the woman. These new restrictive abortion laws are taking women back to a place even worse than before Roe v. Wade. When a state can punish a woman with up to 20 years in prison for her pregnancy resulting in a miscarriage, it is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment. A miscarriage is an emotional time for a woman for which her own body ends the pregnancy. Having to deal with a miscarriage and then facing 20 years in jail for it, is inconceivable.
As a former prosecutor, I call on all prosecutors to reject the prosecution of these cases. A prosecutor has wide latitude in deciding what gets prosecuted. Prosecutors are not required to pursue cases even if indicted by a grand jury. This country has long been on a downward spiral to take back Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose. This case is not even about a woman affirmatively choosing to undergo an abortion. It is about punishing women for any way that a pregnancy ends. Where will it end? If a pregnant woman wearing high heels slips and falls causing injury to her unborn baby and a miscarriage ensues, will Alabama’s law result in her being charged with manslaughter. Will the law say that the woman shouldn’t have worn high heels while pregnant? While this may seem absurd, it is no more absurd than the present case.
Manslaughter is defined as when a person recklessly causes the death of another person. It is also when a person causes a death in the sudden heat of passion caused by provocation under the law. Under Alabama’s present stance, does that mean if someone gets into a heated oral argument with a person and that individual has a heart attack, would manslaughter charges be appropriate? Does the present case mean that if someone dies, including a fetus with or without regard for the circumstance, a person can be charged for the death? No, manslaughter was never intended to be interpreted in this manner.
The interpretation of Alabama’s law is a slippery slope which is taking us down the path to the unimaginable. This is not America . We have now entered the Twilight Zone.
Debbie Hines is a trial attorney and former prosecutor.