INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A lawyer for a woman charged with murdering her infant because she ate rat poison while pregnant says records clearly show that the Indiana law she's charged under was only meant to apply to people who attack pregnant women, not the women themselves.
Prosecutors argue that the 1997 fetal murder statute Bei Bei Shuai faces doesn't exempt women who intentionally end their own pregnancy, and that a suicide note Shuai wrote proves she meant for her fetus to die as well.
Shuai, a Chinese immigrant from Shanghai, was eight months pregnant and heartbroken after a breakup when she ate rat poison in December 2010. She was hospitalized and doctors detected little wrong with the fetus' health for the first few days.
Shuai, 36, gave birth to Angel Shuai on Dec. 31. Three days later, the baby died from bleeding in the brain. Medical staff reported her to the police; her lawyers said it was a suicide attempt. In March 2011, after Shuai was released from treatment for depression, prosecutors charged her with murder and feticide. Her trial is scheduled to start April 22.
The case has garnered a lot of interest from women's rights advocates, who say Shuai's prosecution could establish an unequal system that would effectively hold pregnant women to a stricter legal standard than everyone else in Indiana.
The section of the law Shuai is charged under states that it can apply to a person who "knowingly or intentionally kills a fetus that has attained viability commits murder." But the sections that precede it refer to one person attacking another. Shuai's lawyers argue that means the law would apply only to someone who attacks a pregnant woman and kills their fetus.
Shuai's attorney, Linda Pence, said Friday that prosecutors are taking the fetal murder language out of context with the rest of Indiana's homicide statute and the state's legal history.
"For 200 years in Indiana history, murder has always been the murder of one person by another person," she said.
Pence filed a motion in Marion County Court this week asking Judge Sheila Carlisle to dismiss the case. She contends that records show the Legislature never intended the law to apply to pregnant women, only to their attackers. She said it was enacted following the birth of a stillborn baby to a woman who was wounded in a drive-by shooting while eight months pregnant.
"It's clear that the purpose of the bill was to get people who try to kill pregnant women," Pence said.
The Marion County prosecutor's office has declined to discuss details of the case, and spokeswoman Peg McLeish didn't immediately respond to another request for comment Friday.