Following immense public pressure, prosecutors in Alabama have dropped manslaughter changers against Marshae Jones, a 28-year-old African-American woman whose pregnancy ended after she was shot in the stomach by a coworker. Local police accused Jones of starting the fight that led to the shooting in the parking lot of a Dollar General store outside of Birmingham. A grand jury then indicted Jones on manslaughter but dismissed any charges against the shooter. The case drew national outcry from women’s rights advocates concerned about the criminalization of pregnant women and the legal implications of so-called fetal personhood. The National Abortion Federation, along with the Yellowhammer Fund and other reproductive justice advocacy groups, launched a successful campaign to get the charges against Jones dropped. Alabama is one of 38 states to have a fetal homicide law. We speak with Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Alabama, where, under immense public pressure, prosecutors have dropped manslaughter charges against a pregnant woman whose pregnancy ended after she was shot in the stomach by a co-worker. Marshae Jones, a 28-year-old African-American woman, was charged with manslaughter because the shooting caused her pregnancy to end. She was shot. Local police accused Jones of starting the fight that led to the shooting in the parking lot of a Dollar General store outside of Birmingham. A grand jury blamed Jones for, quote, “initiating a fight knowing she was five months pregnant,” and dismissed charges against the shooter.
The case drew national outcry from women’s rights advocates concerned about the criminalization of pregnant women and the legal implications of so-called fetal personhood. The National Abortion Federation, along with the Yellowhammer Fund and other reproductive justice advocacy groups, launched a successful campaign to get the charges against Jones dropped. Alabama is one of 38 states to have a fetal homicide law.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
LYNN PALTROW: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. In this brief time we have, explain to us this case. Marshae, the 28-year-old African-American woman, who was pregnant, is shot in the stomach, and she’s charged with manslaughter.
LYNN PALTROW: Well, that’s exactly what the world looks like. And we tend to divide things up and say this is about abortion, this is about something else. It’s all about the same thing: Are people with the capacity for pregnancy second-class citizens, second-class—have a second-class status?
In November of 2018, Alabama passed Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment that purported to just focus on abortion, but included a statement that under all of Alabama state laws it would be policy to protect and recognize the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children. It was a month later that this fight, this shooting, happened, in which a pregnant woman is a victim of what would otherwise be thought of as a crime, and you have the local police lieutenant announcing that the only real victim in this case was the fetus. The result, later on, by the grand jury was to indict Marshae Jones.
And then, what we see as a result of the advocacy, nationally, but also, importantly, by local advocates, was against a vision of pregnant women in which they can be arrested for being victims themselves of crimes by being—putting themselves in danger. And it was local state-based organizations, with the support of national groups, including National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Yellowhammer Fund, the law firm of White Arnold & Dowd, that had a motion to dismiss filed within a few days, and also we have to credit the prosecutor, Lynneice Washington, the first black elected prosecutor in Alabama, for doing the right thing.
AMY GOODMAN: And so the charges against Marshae were dropped.
LYNN PALTROW: They were dropped. They should never have been brought in the first place. But they’re a direct line from these claims of fetal personhood and anti-abortion measures.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain. A fetus in a place like Alabama has the same rights as a child?
LYNN PALTROW: Oh, absolutely not. They have more rights than a child. No child has the right to have a parent arrested for the work they’re doing or for putting themselves in, quote-unquote, “a dangerous location.” No child has the right to force a parent to undergo cesarean surgery. But if you define unborn children as having separate rights from the moment of fertilization, it gives the state control over pregnant women that is unlike anything—any other person in the United States of America.
AMY GOODMAN: How unusual is this case? I mean, this got national attention, but that’s because groups rallied around it.
LYNN PALTROW: Well, two things. One is, it’s not the first case in which a woman who’s experienced a pregnancy loss has been charged with manslaughter or murder. And she is one of hundreds of women in Alabama who have been arrested because of pregnancy. Hundreds of other women have been arrested as a result of a chemical endangerment of a child law, child redefined by Roy Moore and the state Supreme Court to include the unborn from the moment of fertilization. But it is the first case of the many different permutations where you—
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning if you took a drug, that you would be charged with child endangerment.
LYNN PALTROW: Chemical endangerment of a child, and it included medications your doctors provided to you. So, it included women who received methadone treatment. It could apply to women who got an epidural during pregnancy, until an exposé by ProPublica at least forced them to say, “Well, if you’re prescribed that medication, we won’t lock you up.”
So, she’s one of hundreds of women in Alabama, but it is the first time we have seen a case where a woman has been arrested because she was unable to protect herself from an act of extreme violence. So she suffers a wound to her stomach. She loses a pregnancy she wanted, the baby that she wanted, and they turn around and turn her into a criminal.
We are very grateful, we are very relieved, by the activism of the state-based activists and the prosecutor, that they dropped the charges. But what we need to turn to now is the almost 600 other women in the state who have been arrested under the guise of the war on drugs, which people are not very sympathetic to, but in fact these women overwhelmingly are giving birth to healthy babies. Drugs are not more dangerous than being in a fight. They are less dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Are women imprisoned, these women?
LYNN PALTROW: Absolutely. Women have been imprisoned. They’ve had their children taken away. They go to the hospital for healthcare, and there’s doctors working with local prosecutors. Women give birth and are taken off to jail. Some have been arrested while they’re pregnant. So, this was an incredibly important step of activism on behalf of Marshae Jones. We now need to see it on behalf of all of the pregnant women in Alabama.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about around the country?
LYNN PALTROW: And we see the same—it’s not unique to Alabama. I think we want to dismiss Alabama as some outlier Southern state, but we have cases like this in New York, where we had—we were successful in getting a manslaughter charge overturned by the highest court in New York for a woman who was in a car accident while pregnant, on which they blamed her for the car accident and the pregnancy loss.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to end here, but we’re going to go to Part 2 at democracynow.org and ask you about some of these cases that you’re working on. Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.