Marshae Jones was five months pregnant when she was shot in the stomach. Her fetus did not survive the shooting, which authorities say happened during a dispute with another woman.
But Wednesday, it was Jones who was charged in the death.
Jones, 28, was charged with manslaughter and booked into jail on a $50,000 bond, according to authorities in Jefferson County, Alabama. Police have said she was culpable because she started the fight that led to the shooting and failed to remove herself from harm’s way.
“The only true victim in this was the unborn baby,” Lt. 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.”
The unusual case comes amid a heated debate over the rights of pregnant women and fetuses nationwide, and Alabama is ground zero for the issue.
In May, the governor signed a bill banning abortion at every stage of pregnancy and criminalizing the procedure for doctors, in what became the most stringent measure to prohibit abortion in the country. It is unclear if it will go into effect, but it sets up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the federal case that recognizes a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
Alabama is among 38 states that have fetal homicide laws recognizing the fetus as a victim in cases of violence against a pregnant woman, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The law underpins the debate over abortion in that Alabama recognizes a fetus at any stage of development as a “person” for criminal homicide or assaults, with an exception for abortion. An Alabama Supreme Court justice challenged that exception in a recent opinion.
Soon after the arrest of Jones, who is black, abortion rights groups came to her defense, citing the case as an example of the harsh treatment of people of color and the criminalization of pregnancy. In other cases, women have been charged for drug use during pregnancy or a car accident that resulted in the death of a fetus.