US interfaith group supports woman charged with attempted feticide

Free Bei Bei Shuai poster

Three years ago, 36-year-old Bei Bei Shuai was eight months pregnant.

Her boyfriend had just left her, and she was depressed.

So, in December 2010, she ate rat poison hoping to end her life.

But Bei Bei didn't die. She lived and gave birth prematurely to a daughter named Angel.

Angel, however, lived only three days, and that's when the state of Indiana charged Shuai with attempted murder and feticide.

Shuai's charges have garnered both local and international attention.

Dozens of Indiana legal, medical and women's rights have organized on Shuai's behalf – including the Indiana Religious Coalition in Support of Reproductive Justice.

The organization does not espouse any particular faith tradition, but Sue Ellen Braunlin, one of the co-presidents said Shuai's case should matter to all people of faith.

She said love, mutuality and justice are themes not only of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, but are also at the core of most of the world's major religions.

And Shuai's case, she said, violates all of those.

"I can't think of anything more cruel than to charge a woman who's already suffering from depression, abandonment and the loss of a three-day-old newborn," she said. "She needs healthcare, not law enforcement."

Suicide is not a crime in the state of Indiana, and Shuai's attorney, Linda Pence, has argued that Shuai's suicide attempt is being unfairly and illegal prosecuted simply because she was a pregnant woman.

Braunlin agrees.

"It sets a terrible precedent for a pregnant woman to be turned into authorities for depression and a suicide attempt," she said.

"That will have terrible consequences on pregnant women who need help and are seeking help for depression or a substance abuse problem," asserted Braunlin.

"If they know they can be locked up for it, it completely violates the therapeutic relationship between a pregnant woman and her prenatal care provider."

The argument made by most of Shuai's supporters is that if she can be punished for the effect her suicide attempt had on her unborn child, a legal precedent will be set to allow pregnant women to be prosecuted for any behavior deemed dangerous to a fetus.

This, they claim, is a slippery slope.

"It has been a trend to criminalize pregnant women for things that may be harmful to themselves, like driving without a seatbelt, or use of drugs, falling down the stairs," Braunlin said.

"There has been a trend to arrest women for doing something that someone thinks is harmful to the fetus."

Additionally, Braunlin cited a study by Lynn Paltrow, founder of National Advocates for Pregnant women.

It found that people most often arrested for depression are low-income women and women of color, a blatant case of social and racial discrimination.

"These are people society thinks they need to control," she said.

Shuai will face trial in September 2013.

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