THE CASE OF MARSHAE JONES: HOW RESTRICTIVE ABORTION LAWS IMPACT REAL WOMEN

International Women’s Protest in New York. Photo by Indira Cesarine.

Marshae Jones was five months pregnant when she was involved in an altercation at a Dollar General parking lot after work. In the midst of the fight, Jones, 27, was shot by the other party, resulting in the loss of her unborn child. A grand jury in the state of Alabama declined to indict the woman who shot her. Meanwhile, Jones is awaiting a trial for manslaughter charges.

When Alabama passed new abortion laws in May, frequently referred to as a ban because of how restrictive they are, a stipulation was added that defined that life begins at conception. Therefore, under these new laws, and because Jones started the altercation, she is directly responsible for the death of her unborn child. This law has been similarly used to indict drug addicts and women who participate in activities deemed “risk-based” for miscarriages, stillborn deaths, and premature births resulting in birth defects.

Marshae Jones, photo courtesy of The New York Times.

In the small Alabama town of Pleasant Grove where Jones lived, this indictment has not caused controversy. A town where gun rights supporters far outweigh those calling for reproductive freedoms, the majority of Pleasant Grove residents are siding with the police and jury to prosecute and indict Jones for manslaughter. If convicted, she could spend anywhere from five to 18 months in prison.

Women’s March, 2018. Photo by Indira Cesarine.

Alabama currently has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, but it’s not alone in the fight to strip American women of their reproductive rights. Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah and Iowa have all introduced “heartbeat bills,” or similarly restrictive laws that prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is often as early as six weeks. Some of these states, including Alabama, even declined to make allowances in cases of rape and incest. The only way an abortion is allowed past the first couple weeks of gestation in many of these states is if the fetus has a condition that threatens the life of the mother or will cause it to be born with not viability of life.

Protestors in Alabama after the passage of the 2019 abortion laws. Photo by Butch Dill, courtesy of nbcnews.com.

Jones is just one of many women who have felt the real and devastating ramifications of these laws. And with South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Florida all currently working to pass heartbeat bills, the widespread impact is only going to grow. So far, only New York, Maine and Vermont have enacted any abortion protections into their state laws, leaving women in the remaining 34 states vulnerable.

Marshae Jones now has to deal with the devastating loss of her child, a child she had already given a name: Marlaysia Jones. Now, she may have to grieve from a prison cell while the woman who shot her walks free. Marshae Jones’ case proves these laws go beyond restricting abortion; they are designed to restrict women.

Protest in New York, 2016. Photo by Indira Cesarine.

After these laws started taking effect, Planned Parenthood and other women’s rights organizations came out with resources to help women living in restricted abortion states. In many of these states, if a woman is found to have travelled to another state for the specific reason of acquiring an abortion legally, they can still be prosecuted on manslaughter or murder charges upon return. Because of this, many clinics recommend women traveling to obtain a legal abortion should:

  • choose a state that is known for tourism,
  • sign no legal documents at the clinic,
  • know your HIPAA rights,
  • pay in cash,
  • and tell as few people as possible about the pregnancy and abortion.

If you are living in an abortion-restrictive state, the most important thing to do is know your rights and the specific laws of your state. For further resources and counseling, visit Planned Parenthood’s websiteThe National Abortion Federation also has free, confidential, multilingual hotlines that can provide counseling, financial assistance and clinic recommendations to women all over the country. They also have a fund that helps women with financial hardships who need to travel in order to obtain a safe, legal abortion.

For unbiased information about abortion and about other resources, including financial assistance, call 1-800-772-9100

For referrals to quality abortion providers call 1-877-257-0012.

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