The two-year case of Bei Bei Shuai, the Indiana woman imprisoned for feticide after she attempted suicide while 33 weeks pregnant, could have set a harmful legal precedent for pregnant women if it had gone to trial. Thankfully, the plea deal reached on Friday means that the case is now closed, and Shuai is a free woman. The charges of murder and feticide were dropped once Shuai pleaded guilty to criminal recklessness.
The lesser charge means that Shuai’s sentence will be 178 days, but since she was already in prison for 435 days before being released on bail, this means that she will not serve any more time. If Shuai’s case had gone to trial, she could have faced up to 65 years in prison.
Shuai’s plight began when, after a bout of severe depression, she attempted to kill herself by ingesting rat poison in December 2010. What should have been cause to receive medical attention and psychiatric care actually saw her serving time in March 2011. This was because her baby died just a few days after birth, allegedly as a result of the poison. The feticide statute, a law that began, in 1997, as an attempt to protect pregnant women against violence, had appeared to have gravely back-fired. Over the following years, many pro-choice advocates have worried that feticide laws may be used to undermine women’s rights to abortions, legally regulate women’s bodies and to prosecute pregnant women themselves.
Friday’s decision provides some hope that this is not the case, as well as reassurance that her immigration status would not be affected (Shuai emigrated from China in the early 2000s).
Depression isn’t uncommon in pregnancy, and suicide ideation affects up to 30 percent of depressed pregnant women. We can only hope, to use a phrase from Shuai’s supporters who rallied outside the Indianapolis City Market, that in the future depressed or suicidal pregnant women will be able to receive “treatment, not punishment.”
Photo of Bei Bei Shuai from FOX59 Twitter account