January 8, 2013 — Women's rights advocates and mental health groups are seizing on the ongoing legal case involving a woman who attempted suicide while pregnant and has been charged with murder and attempted feticide, the Indianapolis Star/USA Today reports (Ritchie, Indianapolis Star/USA Today, 1/6).
Indiana resident Bei Bei Shuai attempted to kill herself in December 2010, when she was 33 weeks pregnant, by consuming rat poison. Shuai was hospitalized, and the infant was delivered via caesarean section but died a few days later. In March 2011, Shuai was charged with murder and attempted feticide under an Indiana law that makes it a crime to cause death or injury to a fetus. In May 2012, a state court granted her $50,000 bond, though courts have declined to overturn the charges (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/22/12).
About 80 health advocacy groups have filed court briefs in support of Shuai, and more than 10,000 people across the world have signed an online petition in her support. Abortion-rights opponents largely have not commented on the case, which is scheduled for an April 22 trial.
Issues at Hand
Medical and legal experts have said bringing the case to trial could have dangerous consequences, including deterring pregnant women from discussing substance abuse with their doctors or from seeking medical care at all, according to the Star/USA Today.
Linda Pence, Shuai's attorney, argued that the prosecution is discriminatory because suicide would not be considered a crime for anyone other than pregnant women. Pence also said Shuai is being denied due process because she had no way of knowing she could face charges, as this is the first case in Indiana involving feticide charges during a suicide.
The case is further complicated by the fact that the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on the fetus did not research whether the child died from the rat poison or medications administered after Shuai was admitted to the hospital (Indianapolis Star/USA Today, 1/6).