A 35-year-old Indiana woman is awaiting trial after she swallowed rat poison and killed her baby, if not herself. Is she a criminal, or a victim of anti-abortion politics?
After her boyfriend left her in January 2011, Indiana resident Bei Bei Shuai — alone and 33 weeks pregnant — was so distraught that she tried to kill herself by swallowing rat poison. The 35-year-old, a Chinese immigrant, survived, but her baby, delivered by Caesarian section, did not. Shuai, grief-stricken, was transferred to the Indiana hospital's mental health wing and, two months later, was arrested on charges of attempted feticide and murder. After spending 435 days behind bars, she was finally released on bond in early May, but if convicted in a trial that begins in December, she could get 45 years to life. Were her actions really a crime, or has she been unfairly caught up in the battle over abortion?
Shuai is a victim of politics: It's easy to "sympathize with Shuai and her apparent mental illness," says Libby Copeland at Slate, "while also being deeply disturbed by what she did." But it's "entirely inappropriate" to accuse her of murder. Shuai's demonization is part of the anti-abortion crowd's effort to push personhood bills and other legislation that treats "pregnant women as mere vessels for baby-making." Shuai didn't try to feed poison to her baby, she tried to kill herself. That's a tragedy, not a crime.
"The suicidal pregnant woman and the politics of motherhood"
The law is the law: This isn't about politics, it's about enforcing "the criminal code as enacted by our legislature," prosecutor Terry Curry tells Britain's Guardian. The state's 1979 feticide law makes it a crime to do anything to an expectant mother that causes the death of her fetus, and Shuai did what she did knowing — intending — that it would kill her unborn child. She even wrote her former boyfriend a suicide note saying she was "taking this baby with me."
"Indiana prosecuting Chinese woman for suicide attempt that killed her fetus"
Depression isn't a crime: Many, many women suffer from antenatal or postpartum depression, just as Shuai did, says Katherine Stone at Babble. "I know a lot of women who, but for the grace of God, could be in her position. Good women. Wonderful, talented, intelligent women. Great mothers." It sends a terrible, cruel message to everyone who struggles with mental illness during or after pregnancy that, "should something go horribly wrong," we're going to "whisk them off to jail."
"Pregnancy and suicide: Is an attempt attempted murder?"
Other stories from this topic:
- Instant Guide: The doctor forced to pay child support after a botched abortion
- The List: Why a 'record low' number of Americans are 'pro-choice': 5 theories
- Timeline: How TV shows deal with abortion: A timeline