INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s prosecution of a pregnant woman accused of killing her fetus by swallowing rat poison during a suicide attempt could discourage women from seeking prenatal care, medical groups have argued in a court brief.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women’s Association, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and other groups filed the brief in a Marion County court Friday on behalf of 34-year-old Bei Bei Shuai, who was charged with murder and feticide last month.
Police say friends took Shuai to a hospital in Anderson after she told them she swallowed rat poison Dec. 23. She was transferred to a hospital in Indianapolis, where she gave birth Dec. 31. The baby named Angel Shuai died three days later.
Shuai spent more than four weeks in inpatient psychiatric care, according to The Indianapolis Star. She was recovering from depression when the prosecutor filed charges three weeks ago, said her attorney, Linda Pence. Shuai has been in jail since then. A hearing is set for Tuesday to determine whether she should be released on bail.
The medical groups argue in a brief co-written by two professors at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis that the charges against her should be dismissed.
“The goal of these prosecutions is to promote fetal welfare, but in fact it’s more likely that they will endanger fetal welfare, because now pregnant women may have to be worried because a trip to the doctor’s office may end up as a trip to jail,” said professor David Orentlicher, who helped write the brief. Orentlicher is a doctor as well as a lawyer, while his co-author, professor Jennifer Girod, is a nurse and an attorney.
Orentlicher said the case could keep pregnant women from seeking prenatal care if they feel they could be accused of mistreating their fetus.
“Prosecuting pregnant women who are trying to harm themselves is very bad public policy,” Pence said. “This is the most expansive interpretation that a prosecutor could give.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has also submitted a brief to the court, arguing that charging Shuai with a crime for attempting suicide is unconstitutional because a man or woman who wasn’t pregnant would not have been charged for the same act.
A spokesman for the Marion County prosecutor’s office said the agency is reviewing the documents filed on Shuai’s behalf and has no comment.