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Woman arrested for death of her foetus freed

This article is more than 12 months old

The 27-year-old had been indicted for manslaughter after being shot in stomach

ALABAMA She was five months pregnant when she got into a quarrel with a woman who shot her in the stomach.

The woman who shot Ms Marshae Jones, 27, and killed the foetus was not charged because the authorities in Alabama felt she acted in self-defence. Ms Jones, however, was indicted for manslaughter in May.

The reason: A Jefferson County grand jury concluded that she intentionally caused the death of her foetus in December by starting the fight.

Last week, those charges were dropped, and Ms Jones was freed but not before the case brought to light a contentious issue involving women's rights.

At the centre of the storm is a term called personhood. Advocates of personhood believe the unborn child has as much a right to life as the mother herself.

Ms Jones's arrest came amid heightened tensions around women's rights after more than a dozen states in the southern and Midwestern United States, including Alabama, passed restrictive personhood abortion laws that are currently being challenged in court.

Alabama's law, which was passed in May, bans abortion even in cases of rape or incest, equating it with homicide.

The law is set to come into force in November but is likely to be blocked in court because it goes against the 1973 US Supreme Court Roe versus Wade ruling that legalised abortion.

Fortunately, Ms Jones did not have to wait that long.

Jefferson County district attorney Lynneice Washington announced that she was dismissing the case and that no further legal action would be brought.

"This is truly a disturbing and heartbreaking case," Ms Washington told a news conference.

Ms Washington said grand jury members made "what they believed to be a reasonable decision", believing someone needed to be held accountable for the death of the foetus.

The American Civil Liberties Union also released a statement commending the dismissal, writing that Ms Washington's decision "represents precisely what we want to see in these critical moments: a prosecutor who is not afraid to use prosecutorial discretion and power to refuse to prosecute when the law and justice demand that charges should be dropped".

Ms Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said more cases like this should be expected, AP reported.

"We hope there are no more cases like this in the future, but our experience in 40 years of cases suggests that we will see many more such misuses of the law in the name of foetal personhood in the future," she said.

Attorney Mark White, who represents Ms Jones, lauded Ms Washington's decision, saying it will "help Marshae continue to heal from this tragic event and work to rebuild her life in a positive and productive way".

Ms Jones, who has no criminal history and is the mother of a six-year-old, lost not only her unborn child but also her job and her house in a fire, her lawyers have said. - AFP, REUTERS

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