Equal protection of the law is a tricky aspect of our legal system, even though that protection has helped establish America’s identity in the world. However, even those protections have limits. An individual who commits a crime is subject to the same investigation and punishment as everyone else. Bei Bei Shuai’s pregnancy and attempted suicide provides yet another example of this limitation.
In 2010, Shuai, who was in her third trimester, informed the father that she was carrying his child. The father revealed that he was already married and walked out, leaving Shuai depressed enough to ingest rat poison after writing a suicide note. Shuai’s friends found and brought her to a hospital, where she delivered a premature daughter. The infant died a few days later. Shuai herself was arrested a couple of months after the death of her child for murder. This week, in May of 2012, the Supreme Court of Indiana forced the trial court to post bail for Shuai, even though bail is almost never put up for murder charges.
Shuai’s attorneys have labeled the case as a question of due process and equal rights. Suicide is not a crime in Indiana, but Shuai’s attempt is treated as such. The defense argues that such a double standard, one for pregnant women and one for everyone else, violates the equal protection of the law. Moreover, the case could have larger consequences. If Shuai is convicted, then this case could lead to a wider slippery slope in which women are prosecuted for any harmful activities which could endanger fetuses. It would certainly be idiotic not to mention insane to prosecute a woman for endangering the fetus by falling down the stairs.
State prosecutors counter that Shuai’s consumption of rat poison was directed more at her child, as a form of revenge against her former lover. Shuai’s intent was revealed in the suicide note, in which she wrote that she was taking the child to Hades (a rough translation). Although abortion is legal in Indiana, the child died after she was born. Indiana and Federal law both make the intentional killing of a fetus a crime. The courts agree that the case is viable and a trial, despite the defense’s motion for a dismissal, is expected.
Indiana’s use of Laci and Connor Law, the act making the killing of a fetus a crime, is interesting. The law was enacted after the murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn son in 2002, with the intent to protect pregnant women from violent crime. Many pro-choice groups opposed the law when it was first passed and it appears their fears are justified today.
Shuai was not psychologically well, yet is being prosecuted by a law meant to protect her. Most who attempt suicide are given psychological help, not a criminal prosecution. Pregnancy, or the capacity for pregnancy, comes directly from gender, an aspect of a person not easily changed. The prosecution is thus related to a person’s status and not a person’s actions. More importantly, criminals must be of sound mind to stand trial. Depression, as a mental state, is difficult to overcome without outside intervention. Shuai is certainly receiving the harsh side of the law.
At the same time though, the loss of a child is a hard one for society to bear. Shuai ate enough rat poison to make her child terminally ill after death. She is most likely directly responsible for that death. While there is a chance that the infant’s death might not be connected to the toxin or that she ate the rat poison without realizing what it was, those chances are unlikely. Eating rat poison was likely to kill Shuai’s child as much as Shuai herself. In essence, though I sympathize with those who oppose the prosecution of pregnant women, this is not a good test case to limit that kind of legal action. Shuai’s methods were too close to the child’s demise. Although murder might not be the correct indictment and the usage of the Laci and Conner Law might be abhorrent, Shuai does deserve some of the harshness she is receiving.