Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant living in Indiana, was shamed and abandoned by her boyfriend when she told him she was pregnant. She became so despondent that she attempted suicide by eating rat poison. Because friends and medical personnel intervened, she survived, and tried to make sure that her daughter, whom she named Angel, did too. Unfortunately Angel died in her arms a few days after birth. Bei Bei Shuai was then charged and imprisoned for feticide and murder. She recently lost her appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court to have the charges dropped.
Today Shots, the health blog of National Public Radio, reports that Bei Bei Shuai’s bail has been set at $50,000, a daunting amount, especially for someone without money. According to Shots:
Meanwhile, the groups now fighting to have women spared from prosecution under fetal homicide laws are turning to those who advocated for them in the first place — anti-abortion groups. Those groups, however, have been uncharacteristically quiet. Neither of two of the more outspoken groups; the National Right to Life Committee nor the Susan B. Anthony List, would comment on the issue.
My feedback to Shots:
I serve on the board of a prolife group, All Our Lives (http://www.allourlives.org), that *is* taking a stand for women like Bei Bei Shuai and Christine Taylor. We have sent a letter of support to Bei Bei Shuai and signed onto National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s amicus brief in the Alabama Kimbrough/Ankrom case, which is about prosecuting pregnant women who use substances.
We do not believe that prosecuting and scapegoating women for substance use/abuse or fetal homicide is the way to bring about respect and support for both of the inestimably valuable lives, the mother’s and the baby’s, in each and every pregnancy. In fact, such criminalization can pressure women into having abortions.
How about instead guaranteeing that every woman-with-child can access, and promptly, all the health and social services, such as substance abuse treatment and mental health care, necessary to give life and health to *both*?
I also wonder why the Susan B. Anthony List, if it wants to genuinely follow in Anthony’s footsteps, would stay quiet about these criminalization cases. After all, during the late 1860s, Susan B. Anthony advocated strongly for Hester Vaughan, a penniless immigrant woman impregnated and then brutally abandoned and turned into the streets by her employer. Vaughan was then imprisoned and sentenced to death when her baby died shortly after she gave birth in an unheated garret in wintertime. Because Anthony and other feminists–including Dr. Charlotte Denman Lozier, for whom the SBA LIST has named its new public policy wing–rallied to Vaughan’s aid, Vaughan was pardoned and helped back to her home in England.
Anthony and her compatriots opposed abortion and infanticide, yes–they even used the terms interchangeably–and they worked vigorously to alleviate the root causes of these practices, through legislation and other means, such as calling men to sexual and reproductive accountability and promoting voluntary motherhood. But they did not want pregnant and postpartum women to be criminalized. Their stance was of its time, and yet it still has something to teach ours.