Less than an hour ago, Indianapolis prosecutor, Mr. Terry Curry agreed to drop first degree murder charges against Bei Bei Shuai in an agreement that required her to plead to a misdemeanor. The case was a month away from trial in what would have been the first prosecution of a pregnant woman in Indiana for attempting suicide. Ms. Shaui ate several packets of rat poison in a desperate attempt to end her life after being abandoned by her boyfriend. After being saved by friends and doctors, prosecutors filed first degree murder charges against Shuai, because her baby died.
Bei Bei Shuai’s case highlights the turn to criminal prosecution in fetal protection cases as a terrible national phenomenon. Shuai was spared the horrible fate experienced by poor women, many of color, across the U.S., including Regina McKnight, Paula Hale, Melissa Rowland, and others. In a forthcoming article to be published in the California Law Review, I argue that these prosecutions represent the new constitutional battlefronts as they burden pregnant women’s due process interests while also imposing the type of cruel and unusual punishment disallowed by the Eighth Amendment. I have argued in prior works found here and here that such prosecutions often involve racial profiling and create hierarchies among women’s pregnancies. Indeed, most often the pregnant women targeted for threatening harm to their fetuses are so poor that they lack adequate legal representation, relying on overworked public defenders who make valiant efforts, but lack the economic wherewithal to properly aid in these cases. Shuai’s case was different in that she had Linda Pence, a valiant, private attorney, who spent over two years providing excellent pro-bono legal aid.
Bei Bei Shuai’s release from murder charges also represents another victory for Advocates for Pregnant Women, the leading organization advocating on behalf of indigent pregnant women.