Black Woman Charged with Manslaughter... for Being Shot While Pregnant

by Sunsara Taylor



On June 26, 27-year-old Marshae Jones was arrested, taken to the local jail, and locked in a cell. Her bail was set at $50,000. Her mug shot was flashed across television and computer screens across the country. “Manslaughter” was the charge.

Had she stabbed someone to death? Shoved a child off a bridge? Fatally hit someone with her car?

No. No. And no.

Marshae Jones had been shot in the stomach. The shot that hit her had caused her to miscarry her pregnancy. For this, she now faces up to 20 years in prison. In other words, the state of Alabama is charging her for the “crime” of being unable to protect the life of the fetus inside her when she was the victim of violence.

Read that again.

Marshae Jones had been the victim of a shooting. A bullet tore through and tore open her body. She suffered enormous pain, trauma, and the tragic loss of her pregnancy.

But, rather than being treated as the victim... rather than being offered sympathy, compassion, and support through her loss... she was separated from the young child she already has, locked in a concrete cell, labeled a killer, and faced with the full power of the state threatening to bury her in prison.

Police Lt. Danny Reid even claimed that “the only true victim in this was the unborn baby.”

There it is. Completely undisguised. A bigot with a badge looks at a Black woman who is brutalized and traumatized and doesn’t see a victim. He only sees a criminal. What a perfect, if barbaric, embodiment of a system that cares nothing for the lives of Black women and never has. A system that is right now moving aggressively—including through this case—to take to heinous new levels the vicious white supremacy and violent male domination upon which this country was founded.

Let’s be clear: To a woman who wants a child, a developing pregnancy holds tremendous promise. But fetuses are NOT babies. A fetus is a subordinate part of a woman's body; it has no independent social or biological existence yet—it is definitely not a “person”! As such, the charge of “manslaughter” has no place in this case whatsoever (manslaughter applies when someone recklessly causes the death of another person). Further, Marshae Jones didn't even cause the death of her fetus; she was the victim of violence. So, not only is it wrong to charge anyone with manslaughter in the death of a fetus, it is doubly wrong to charge Jones who was herself the victim of violence.

Contrary to the claims of Pig Reid—and of the prosecution and of the media covering this case—there was no “unborn baby” in this situation. The only victim here is Marshae Jones.

The person who suffered because of the gunshot was Marshae Jones. The person who suffered because of the loss of her fetus was Marshae Jones. The person who lost her job and her home because of being shot and then arrested was Marshae Jones. The person whose name and reputation are being dragged through the mud is Marshae Jones. The person who is now threatened with the loss of her freedom is Marshae Jones.

Yet, under Alabama law —and increasingly across the country—fetuses are imbued with the full legal rights of a person. And when fetuses are granted legal personhood, it always means—as is being outrageously demonstrated in this case—that the personhood of the woman is completely erased. Between 2004 and 2015, there have been at least 380 cases in which pregnant women were subjected to arrests or other repressive acts for things like attempting suicide, falling down a flight of stairs, using alcohol or drugs, delaying having a caesarean, etc.

But this latest case against Marshae Jones takes all this to a whole other level. This is the first time the claim of fetal personhood has been used as the basis to try to imprison a pregnant woman simply for being the victim of violence. As Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women pointed out, Alabama is “claiming it is a crime for a woman to be unable to protect her own life and health.” And this comes at the same time as a wave of extreme anti-abortion bans are sweeping the country, with the hopes that Trump’s new fascist majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.1

All of this is part of an outright war on women aimed at forcefully reducing women to breeders of children to be policed, shamed, and punished by an increasingly Christian fascist state. This open enslavement of women makes up a core dimension of the fascist program now being hammered into place by the Trump/Pence regime—with its vicious triad of white supremacy, male supremacy, and crude American chauvinism.

The persecution of women like Marshae Jones and the whole fascist assault it is part of calls for the kind of massive resistance not seen in decades. It also calls for—and this resistance will be strengthened by—serious engagement with the work that Bob Avakian, the leader of the revolution, has done to dig into the roots of this oppression and its solution,2 and for people to confront and act on the truth of this quote from him:

The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today’s extreme circumstances.... It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms.... The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement?

Bob Avakian, from Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution


1. Roe v. Wade is the U.S. Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in 1973.  [back]

Marshae Jones


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