An Alabama district attorney announced Wednesday that she will not prosecute Marshae Jones, the Alabama woman charged in the death of her fetus after she was shot in the stomach.
Jefferson County District Attorney Lynneice Washington said her office would be taking no further legal action against the 28-year-old, calling the case “truly disturbing and heartbreaking" for all involved.
Jones’ attorneys said they were pleased with the decision, which they requested in a motion to dismiss earlier this week.
“The District Attorney’s decision will help Marshae continue to heal from this tragic event and work to rebuild her life in a positive and productive way,” attorneys for White Arnold & Dowd said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the law firm told The Daily Beast they had received calls from people across the country asking to donate to Jones' legal defense, and that she would have no outstanding legal fees.
The announcement was the latest development in a case that reignited debate over fetal personhood laws, which grant fetuses the same rights as all other citizens. Alabama is one of 38 states that allow fetuses to be classified as victims in homicides or assaults, and a recent constitutional amendment makes it state policy to “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.”
Women’s rights groups argue these laws only serve to criminalize any woman who loses her pregnancy, no matter the circumstance.
"These laws are passed under the guise of trying to restrict abortion, but those very same criminal laws are being used to arrest or prosecute women who experience miscarriage, or stillbirth, or really any situation in which their own health might be in danger," Nancy Rosenbloom, the director of legal advocacy at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told The Daily Beast.
Jones was five months pregnant when coworker Ebony Jamison allegedly shot her in the stomach during an argument in the parking lot of a local Dollar Tree in December. Police at the time said the fight was over a male coworker, and that Jones initiated the dispute and Jamison shot her in self-defense. Jones suffered a miscarriage soon after.
Police initially charged Jamison with manslaughter, but a grand jury declined to indict her and instead issued Jones the same charge. The panel ruled that Jones, who has no criminal record, had intentionally caused the death of her unborn child by initiating the fight “knowing she was five months pregnant.”
Jones’ attorneys pushed back, arguing that Alabama law does not allow for the prosecution of a woman for manslaughter in relation to her unborn child. They contended that the state illegally expanded criminal statutes by creating a new crime of “transferred intent manslaughter” in order to charge their client.
In dropping the charges Wednesday, Washington said the decision was not meant as a slight to members of the grand jury, who faced national scrutiny after Jones’ indictment.
“The members of the grand jury took to heart that the life of an unborn child was violently ended and believed someone should be held accountable,” she said. “But in the interest of all concerned, we are not prosecuting this case.”
Alabama has been at the forefront of pushing fetal personhood rights of late, starting with the constitutional amendment passed in 2018. This May, the state passed a near-total ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest—the strictest in the country. Two months earlier, a judge allowed a man to sue Planned Parenthood on behalf of his ex-girlfriend’s aborted embryo.
Women’s rights groups have long warned that such developments would lead to cases like Jones’, in which women are held responsible for losing their pregnancies. Rosenbloom said more than 600 women have been charged with crimes related to their pregnancies in Alabama since 2005, including for attempting suicide or using drugs.
“The Alabama legislature signaled clearly this May that once a person is pregnant, that person’s purpose for existing is to ensure that a pregnancy continues, thrives, and ends in birth,” the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama-based reproductive rights group, said when the charges were first announced.
“Jones’ case may seem extreme, but far too soon it will be commonplace. And it will be poor, marginalized and black people who will feel this pain the most.”