Update. Since posting this, I’ve been informed that the purpose of the Rally is to argue for dismissal of the charges–not a plea bargain. Bei Bei takes the (eminently reasonable) position that she should not be branded a felon. As one of the commenters has pointed out, this is the sort of case that does a real disservice to the cause of both criminal justice and mental health, by conflating the two. Did this young woman make a very bad decision? Yes. Did that decision harm both her and her unborn child? Yes. But those facts , without more, do not suffice to prove a crime.
The case of Bei Bei–the young Asian woman who is being prosecuted for murdering her unborn baby–raises a number of questions.
The facts that are known are relatively simple: A young woman, pregnant and deserted by her lover, took rat poison in an apparent suicide attempt. She left a note for the faithless lover, saying she was killing herself and their child. She lived, but her baby died. The prosecutor charged her with murder, and refused to reconsider that charge even after an expert witness testified in a hearing that the still birth of the baby could not be proved to have been a result of the poison.
The case has become a high-profile cause for womens’ rights groups, who have (correctly, in my view) pointed out that a prosecution on these facts runs the risk of “criminalizing pregnancy,” and setting a dangerous precedent; it threatens to identify pregnant women as a separate and unequal class of citizen and to discourage pregnant women from seeking health care for depression or drug addiction. They have held rallies in an effort to pressure the prosecutor into dropping the case, or at least plea bargaining for a lesser charge.
This Saturday, at the City Market at two, there will be another rally.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about this case, which has become a very high-profile debate about both the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the propriety of conducting a criminal defense in the media.
I have a lot of respect for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, but–unless he knows something about the facts of this case that he has not revealed–I can’t understand his decision to spend public resources pursuing this case. The purpose of the criminal justice system is public safety. (I know that a good portion of the electorate prefers a different, more punitive approach–make the bad guys suffer!–but the Indiana Constitution sets a more measured goal.) This young woman presents no threat to the public. She is highly unlikely to be a repeat offender. She’s a troubled individual who made a very bad choice; is punishing that bad choice really where we want to spend our officials’ time and the public’s money?
It is unfortunate that this case has been so highly publicized; perhaps if the media had paid less attention to it, the prosecution would have felt more comfortable resolving it short of trial. But here we are. So the national organizations that have come to Bei Bei’s defense have announced Saturday’s rally, presumably in hopes of pressuring the prosecutor to reconsider. I think it is more likely that the additional publicity will simply harden his resolve, but I recognize the need to draw public attention to the policy question that is at the heart of this case: how should the prosecutor exercise his discretion?
What makes us safe?