NEWSFLASH: Plea Deal Confirmed for Bei Bei Shuai

bbsThe 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


  1. feticide laws are grounded in the notion that a fetus is a person. This is problematic. I don’t think this woman should have had any charges leveled against her. Does this happen to other people who attempt suicide or only pregnant women?

    • by definition, feticide statutes can only apply when a fetus is killed…i don’t know why you say “or only pregnant women.” But, still, the laws have applied to both the pregnant woman who is carrying the baby and a third-party who may have caused the death of the fetus. It applies to many people, but the view is from the perspective of the fetus, not the pregnant woman so she can also be charged

  2. Lafemmeartiste says:

    The precedent for unleashing ignorance, and the overwhelmingly harsh judgmentalism that will come, must be met with absolutely vigilantly compassionate education. No going back for women. No going backwards for humanity, no matter how reactionary the reckless moralists attempt to avoid the reality of risk reduction as the appropriate response model in human well-being, and quality of life in America. Quality of life for a fetus, is the educative focus. One centered in private decision-making that MUST be respected, or else regulating HOW everyone raises their children could easily be next. No exclusions there.

    • Exactly. You are so right. The judgment and hate was exacerbated by the news that she had supporters. There is a lot of education that needs to be done for the best public health outcome for every mom, fetus and baby.

  3. I’ve thought this issue would eventually come up. I started to get nervous when the Laci Peterson law was passed, allowing conviction for both the murder victim (pregnant mom) and the unborn child (second victim). It allows TWO counts of murder.

    Looking at extremes: Would it be okay to criminalize a woman for smoking while pregnant (maybe “endangering the welfare of a child” statute)? Would it be okay for a woman to drink excessive alcohol, poison, and stab her stomach while pregnant? Would that be a crime? Would it only be a crime if a third-party did so? If the third-party argument where people stand, what line do we draw? how do we draw? we can’t recognize that the fetus has no rights and then say a third-party violates those rights. The law should be constructed to make actions illegal for a third-party to do but not the pregnant woman.

  4. A fetus is part of a woman’s body, just like a fingernail is a part of her body. If a woman can be imprisoned for losing a fetus, it’s exactly like imprisoning her for losing part of her fingernail.

    I understand the benefits of the fetal protection laws, but I think the mother should have the legal right to overrule prosecution. If she’s not a per se “victim”, nobody should take prison space away from rapists as a result. This is why many states are considering, or already approving, legalizing small quantities of marijuana. Too many prisoners; too few crimes.

    • A fetus is different from a fingernail in that it is a part of a woman’s body for only a limited time and then goes on to becomes an individual. It is a time limited, total, progressively increasing one-way dependency. The fetus grows to a baby from the very molecules and every system of its mother’s body. Although a fetus will become a separate person, it is absolutely not a separate person. The care of a fetus cannot be shared with others, and a fetus cannot be spared the stresses on its mother. It cannot be dropped off under Infant Safe Haven laws. A viable fetus is not equivalent to a baby. Pregnancy it not a theory.

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