When I predicted that the extreme abortion law just passed in the US state of Alabama would be used to punish women, I was told that I should read the law more closely because it has a specific article that says it will punish the people who perform abortions, not the women who have them. Sadly, the latest news from Alabama convinces me I’m right: a pregnant woman, Marshae Jones, has been indicted for manslaughter after being shot in the stomach by another person.
Alabama’s criminal laws are already being used to police the bodies of pregnant women and the new abortion law would make that worse. I read that “protective” article in context: as a provision of law serving as a fig leaf, paying socially appropriate lip service to protecting poor women from their own decisions.
Laws criminalizing abortion come about because the people who pass them believe abortion deserves criminal penalties, and where abortion is highly restricted, in practice it’s almost always the woman who is punished. The criminal justice system finds a way. In El Salvador, where there is a total abortion ban, the more than a dozen women imprisoned for terminating pregnancies are mostly prosecuted under homicide provisions.
So it’s not abstract theory that women in Alabama could face prison time under the new law – it’s a reasonable expectation. Pregnant women in Alabama are already being punished for drug use, as Amnesty International documented in 2017.
Marshae Jones, 28, who was five-months’ pregnant, was indicted in Alabama yesterday – she’s apparently considered to blame for the death of her fetus for starting a fight and then allowing herself to get shot. A grand jury failed to indict the woman who fired the gun. Although Jones was shot, and lost her pregnancy, a police officer told press “the only true victim in this was the unborn baby.”
I write this from Alabama, where everyone you meet is friendlier than the last person. If you think Alabama’s new law isn’t about punishing women for not staying pregnant, then you aren’t paying close enough attention. Marshae Jones’s case should be dismissed and for the love of everything Alabamians claim to hold dear, she should get a sincere apology and redress.