Update on Bei Bei Shuai: Bad News From Indiana


Bad news came from Indiana on May 11. The state Supreme Court has refused to review charges of attempted feticide and murder against Bei Bei Shuai. Just before Christmas 2010, Shuai, who was thirty-three weeks pregnant, attempted to kill herself by consuming rat poison after her boyfriend, father of the baby, abruptly announced he was married and abandoned her to return to his family. Rushed to the hospital, she had a Caesarean section, but her newborn daughter died after a few days of life. (Here’s my column on the case.) Despite amicus briefs from eighty respected experts and relevant medical and social organizations—the state of Indiana, for reasons best known to itself, will do its best to send Shuai to prison. Potential sentence: forty-five to sixty-five years. The only good news is that after spending 435 days in jail, Shuai is now out on bail.

The message to women is clear: you are criminally liable to the state for your conduct during pregnancy, even if you are mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, or whatever you want to call the extreme psychological state in which people try to kill themselves after receiving a terrible life-upending blow. Isn’t that what the coroner used to say: someone took his own life “while the balance of his mind was disturbed”? Suicide by pregnant women is not rare; it is, in fact, the fifth leading cause of death for them.

To call what Shuai did murder seems to overlook the fact that she was trying to kill herself. But this prosecution is unfortunately in line with a national trend of criminalizing the behavior of pregnant women whether through drug use, self-abortion—even, as in one case, falling down the stairs.

Written By: Katha Pollitt
continue to source article at thenation.com


  1. Hard to express the disgust I feel at the actions of those who would prosecute her, instead of trying to get her some help. And as some of the comments on the article point out, in effect, she is not exactly your average blonde, blue-eyed, pony-tailed, all American cheer-leader type. A little racism mixed in with outright misogyny perhaps. Sickening.

  2. This is quite sick. This poor lady needs help, not to be charged with a crime. Just how backward is Indiana?

  3. Just another example of how the USA is becomcoming just the same as those evil Islamic countries it pretends to dispise. The only difference is that their particular evil is called the Christian Taliban.

  4. Disgusting proselytisation instead of justice…because that will be at the bottom of this utter sham of so called ‘Law’

    That women needs psychiatric help not prison…but what do you expect from a country that routinely puts to death, and boasts about it,  the mentally retarded.
    I would not respect the so called authorities enough to spit on if their ass was on fire!

    In fact one does wonder who the mentally retarded actually are in this sickness of pompous state endorsed enthusiastic murder.

    One also wonders if the subject was a Caucasian gud’ ole gal’ what clinic they would rush her to instead of this utter travesty of righteousness!

  5. Sir, I live in Indiana. How dare you! HOW DAR………………….wait………well I guess Indiana is a little backwards. 

  6. Indiana religious conservatives get about as sick as religious people get, there advice to parents of adult children with significant disablities is drop you kid off at the shelter that has to beg for support.  How nasty to make any child a weapon in a dogmatic fight.  I have enjoyed having a kid with disablities, but forcing parenthood in an over populated world without taking responsiblity for cleaning up after your dogma is nasty.

  7. Abortion is a subject about which I don’t automatically
    differ from my conservative Christian friends, though I usually vote against
    them.  I feel that any abortion is a
    tragedy, but I’m neither a woman nor a father, and so don’t think that my
    feelings count for much in the legal matter which should be decided on reason
    rather than emotion.  Some background: My
    ex-wife suffers from bipolar disorder. 
    When she was 13 weeks pregnant she went into a manic stage, convinced
    herself that she no longer wanted to be tied down, and ended the pregnancy without
    my knowledge.  I couldn’t help but feel
    that she had capriciously killed our child, but it was her charge to bring it
    to term or not, not mine.  My investment
    was in helping set the stage, sowing the seed, and tending the ground by trying
    to support her and build a viable landing zone for the kid.

     I’ll never see what happened as a good outcome, and probably
    can never see it in a light of moral relativism.  But that doesn’t mean that I necessarily want
    law to intercede.  If it did, it would be
    playing a no-win 3-way game (not even counting religious views).  On one hand is rights of the woman, on the
    other rights of the man, and between rights of the forming child.  I think that Roe v. Wade and subsequent
    interpretations did a workable pragmatic job in basing responsibility on
    natural viability.  Any particular point
    is going to be in some sense arbitrary (from religious bans on contraception to
    government imposed birth limit), and so it’s important for a functioning
    society that intends to mitigate the most egregious individual actions to agree
    on an enforceable standard.

     Politically, my conservative Christian friends strongly and
    uniformly come down on the side of the fetus, and discount as coincidental that
    this stance is against the person bearing it. 
    Further, many conservative Christians strive to push the idea of
    viability back to conception and beyond (banning dancing, etc.).  You see similar things in different forms among
    other fundamentalist Abrahamic traditions. 
    Fundamentalist Islam tries to strike women from any role beyond matrimonial
    child production, Ultra-Orthodox Jews strictly define roles of women very
    differently from those of men, and Southern Baptists inveigh women to stand quietly
    by their man.

     Given the misogynistic slant of Abrahamic religions, and
    that those religions still strongly control US politics (even though we
    explicitly said in our constitution that they shouldn’t), I swallow what I feel
    at some level and vote with those pushing in the pro woman direction.  It’s my own affirmative action stance.



  8. Pretty close to full term. I say she’s a murderer. You want to die while driving a car with a passenger and they die instead of you… you are a murderer. Now, of course, to be capable of premeditated murder is to be mentally unfit for trial. State hospital for life. She has, unfortunately, demonstrated that she is able to take life (a child’s life) and is; therefore, unfit for social interaction.

  9. First of all, I don’t see this as a religious issue and all this railing against Christians in this instance is uncalled for.  Clearly, it is a legal issue (the facts and background of which I am not aware of), and I see no evidence of the prosecution of this girl being pushed by religious motives.

    There are two sides here.  The girl does need help, and we certainly do not need to put her in prison, but she did recklessly cause the death of an individual life protected under our consititution.  If a mugger had stabbed her and caused the death of the baby, we would all agree that he should be prosecuted.  Clearly, there needs to be some consequences.

    As a side note, I am pro-life for personal reasons, but you would be hard pressed to defend the current pro-life position using Scripture.  Christians assume the Bible outlaws abortion, but they have not read their Bibles closely.  

  10. Well, obviously the protracted sentence is ridiculous, but this is an interesting case.

  11.  Aquilane, assuming your response is serious and not ironic/sarcastic, I am appalled. To condemn someone like this for what they have done in (presumably) a severe state of depression, and to suggest she has ‘murdered’ her child, is so insensitive, so without any compassion.

  12. Special pleading. At birth a human has all the mental ability of an insect (though this does quickly change) and yet it’s granted full civil rights. Why? Because it’s human! And humans are special! Problem with special pleading, and this particular brand of made up nonsense, is that you have to pick a point when a brainless vegitable you don’t value turns into a brainless vegitable you do value. She had the unfortunate timing to kill a brainless vegitable that the court valued, and so…

    It’s entirely arbitrary, and makes absolutely no logical sense, built upon fallicy as it is – but it’s not purely religious – since many secularists subscribe to this brand of special pleading just as strongly as the faithists.

  13. I think there are strong legal reasons for bringing this case against the mother. There may be religious ones too but, AFAIK, the US is not a theocracy. It is a secular law based democracy.

    The prosecution, I would guess, has reason to believe that she had the mind to kill (the guilty mind or mens rea) not only herself but also the unborn baby and that she did in fact commit that act (the guilty act or actus reus). Such a baby has legal protection under the law. The age of the baby seems to be a key fact here: almost 9 months in the womb. Such an unborn child is well beyond the “abortion” limit and hence has legal protection. What is the law in Louisiana?

    The fact that she was attempting suicide may work against her; it strongly suggests she had a mind to kill (mens rea), only in this case she was not just attempting to killing herself, she was also attempting to killing her unborn too, or she was reckless as to the pre-natal’s well-being. As it happens, she did in fact kill her unborn baby.

    Is there precedence for this? I can imagine a case where a suicidal person jumps off a building and lands on someone else walking down below, killing that person. Such a “jumper” would be vulnerable to prosecution if not for murder then for manslaughter (in English law). The fact that the victim in this case is a free-living human rather than an unborn eight month year old fetus does not matter because in both cases the dead victim has legal protection under the law. But I could be wrong…

  14.  There is not a great deal of ‘ railing against Christians’ on this thread, but in a country that operates such a overwhelming predominance of xian meme…and considering the pro-life/choice debate is littered with genuine and extremely bitter railing by xians on the rest of society, what there is here is fully justified!
    And try as you might you cannot divorce the unpleasantness of this tragedy from xian sensibility and dogma however much you want to run from it when it does not suit.

    The state law under which Shuai is charged was passed in 1979, as part of a post-Roe
    wave of “unborn victims of violence” laws that made the fetus a
    separate victim in crimes against pregnant women that caused her to
    miscarry or die—for example, attacks by muggers or abusive partners.
    Pushed by abortion opponents as part of their strategy of building up
    the legal “personhood” of the fetus

    Ostensibly a reasonable measure…but another agenda was not so far away in this law.

    Abortion opponents come in various flavours…but overwhelmingly in the xian bland and righteous one!…make of that what you will!

    But it is a legal issue…and certainly just given the bare facts in the
    article…then medical intervention for this woman is seemingly glaringly
    indicated and not draconian and pompous condemnation to a lifelong  jail term from the cheap seats!

    As Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, put it: “The
    pro-life movement is not out to punish women. Our goal, instead, is to
    stop child-killing. What would throwing women in jail do to accomplish
    that goal?

    Absolutely nothing except to boast the concept of a sub-text that killing a fetus is ‘bad’ and should never be contemplated under any circumstances…Whether through mental breakdown or planned termination..a ‘message’ that the committed bleat at every opportunity and Pavone is just cashing in on the emotional context this sad case engenders.

    Abortion is not the business of men with an iccky factor or some vague if unconfirmed religious pontification…it is a decision of the woman, give her all the advice and medical information required…but it is not for you, or jeebus christ’s or all his cronies in Christendom’s decision…simples. 

    Will the abortion opponents who claim to want only to protect women speak up for Bei Bei Shuai?

    The silence is deafening!

  15. ANTIcarrot, I don’t think that’s what meant by “special pleading”. Also there is a logical, biological value of newborn and indeed unborn children. It’s not like the hysterical rantings of anti-abortion religious types, but it is not a fallacy to value human babies.

  16. How long before the US has law firms specialising in representing people suing their mothers for smoking while pregnant?

  17.  I would agree with them being the Christian version of the Taliban. They can’t see that they at tarred with the same brush..same BS just a different name.

  18.  “she did recklessly cause the death of an individual life protected under
    our consititution. [sic]  If a mugger had stabbed her and caused the death of
    the baby, we would all agree that he should be prosecuted.”

    For the stabbing of the woman but not the death of the fetus. The point is we do not all agree. The problem for the pro-life position is the incoherency of granting protections to human fetuses but not other fetuses.

  19.  Facts don’t give a damn about sensitivity and compassion. She killed that baby because she was too damn selfish to wait seven more weeks. For what? Because her relationship, like nearly 50% of all couples, broke up. Because something that is so absolutely normal, some of us do it 3 or 4 times, happened to her. Get her to hospital before she doesn’t get something else she wants.

  20.  I never had a brainless insect start kicking like mad when only I touched and spoke to it. I never had a brainless insect respond to Mozart like my daughters did, before they were born. That child was not a brainless insect. It could have survived on its own… long enough for her to kill herself and be found by someone else. No insect will ever accomplish what that child may have. Potential must mean something or start snuffing every coma patient. Why not kill everything that is so dumb and useless?

  21. “I can imagine a case where a suicidal person jumps off a building and
    lands on someone else walking down below, killing that person. Such a
    “jumper” would be vulnerable to prosecution if not for murder then for
    manslaughter (in English law).”

    She brought the someone up to the top of the building and pushed them off with her. Murder 1. Mental hospital.

  22.  The only key for me is the age of the fetus. 33 weeks. It can live on it’s own, has a functioning brain, feels pain, responds to stimulus. Flat out murder.

  23. There couldn’t be a worse possible time for a woman to be abandoned like that, than when she’s so close to parturition. 

    The “father” is a real scumbag.

  24. She killed her baby, who at 33 weeks was only 3 weeks younger than my first daughter.  I understand most of the atheist community automatically sides with pro-choice arguments, but this seems pretty clear.  Either she knew what she was doing and the consequences of her actions (suicide/murder), or she was mentally disturbed and should still be an insanity plea and be dealt with properly (hospital etc).  She certainly shouldn’t be let off scot free.

    On a semi-related note, how the heck do you have a child with someone and not know they are married with another family??  You’d have to be either in denial or completely living in your own little world.

  25.  Live on its own in what sense though? Earlier than 33 weeks with assistance it can survive also. As medical technology advances who knows how far back we will push viability. At 33 weeks the fetus remains absolutely dependent on being provided sustenance, shelter, protection, and so on and so forth. Just as a newborn does. The 33-week line is as arbitrary as any other and remains incoherent in light of how other similarly sentient species are universally treated. But it’s not a position you can be reasoned out of and I don’t care to try. Suffice to say we do not agree and leave it at that.

  26. “The only key for me is the age of the fetus. 33 weeks. It can live on
    it’s own, has a functioning brain, feels pain, responds to stimulus.”

    The law has to have these criteria because it can have no capacity for empathy. But we can.

    “Own little world” is way off. “Own private hell” is surely closer to the mark.

  27. Most insects are pretty deaf, so asking one to respond to motzart is a pretty dumb thing to ask. On the other hand, light, heat, scent or touch… Yeah, insects do that. Spiders are quite capable of freezing when exposed to light, or hunkering down when touched. And they are quite famously interested in vibrations.

    Your bias towards your own species is genetic. Your inability to recognise that bias is not. Neither is particularly comendable.

  28. Flat out murder

    While the balance of her mind was disturbed!
    Or does that not matter?

    She was obviously flaky to a degree…as Chris pointed out, how did she not realise the father was scamming her?

    But that aside many women, and a not a few men, have had liaisons which were anything but honest, not saying it was all her fault though, there is a certain amount of duplicity from the father, notice he probably gets off scot free, maybe even his wife is unaware of his dalliance!

  29. It’s hard to leave it at that when the argument “At 33 weeks the fetus remains absolutely dependent on being provided sustenance, shelter, protection, and so on and so forth” stands for almost all living people today. Show a city that would survive without a regular supply chain of sustenance, shelter, protection, and so on and so forth.

  30. Smart ass. I hear compassion for her. What bias BTW. My bias is for aware and not aware. Trust me, a 33 week old fetus is aware. I have vivid memories from only a few months after birth. There is much going on there.

  31. Chris,

    I would not dispute that taking your own life (or attempting to) and killing the baby in your womb (not that I have one) is a dreadful thing. And I don’t think this woman should  be ‘let off’.
    But for me, the point is that this:

    “Either she knew what she was doing and the consequences of her actions (suicide/murder), or she was mentally disturbed and should still be an insanity plea and be dealt with properly (hospital etc). She certainly shouldn’t be let off scot free.”

    represents an unwillingness, failure even, to face the true nature of the tragedy.

    It’s easier to suppose that she feels no pain (she might be ‘scot free’) – and therefore needs to have it inflicted to correct her – or that she was insane and did not know what she was doing – than to admit the pain she must have been in.

    How are you going to punish someone in this position? Someone who has failed to take her own life and killed her own baby? 

    Again, this is definitely not to say that she should be let off. It’s just saying that the incapacity for fellow feeling in this legal response is striking, even taking into account that legal remedies are often rough and ready.

    And what of the inability of so many self-styled Christians to recognize that there, but for the Grace of God, go I? A little humility would go a long way here.

  32. I don’t suppose she feels no pain, and didn’t say she needs pain inflicted on her.  Please don’t put words in my e-mouth.  As a depression sufferer myself, I can relate to her feelings to a degree.

    If it is determined by psychiatrists etc that she was unstable then that should be factored into her charges/ruling…sending her to prison for 40 years is ridiculous.  I just don’t agree with the idea that she must be feeling terrible and that is “punishment” enough.  Do we even know if she feels that way?  Does it even matter?  I’m sure plenty of people who did terrible things feel bad afterwards, but the deed is still done.

    The tone of the blurb up top just baffles me, it seems to say that pregnant women shouldn’t be legally responsible for their behavior while pregnant.  Hasn’t the writer ever been around kids with FAS?  You’re screwing up that innocent kids life because you’re selfish, or in this case probably unhinged.  We don’t want to prevent that??

  33. Yes. I did put words into your mouth. Apologies.  I actually had in mind more the general argument than your comment.

    The way I see it, both sides of this argument are agreed (or at least fear) that understanding necessitates forgiveness.So one side refuses to recognise the culprit’s experience and the other fails to acknowledge the crime. Each accuse the other of missing something, and both are right.But really, there is no reason why you cannot understand why someone did something and still think they should be punished. It’s just that when you do, you see the whole thing with a horrible inevitability and you get robbed of simple moral certainties.And I think your response illustrates this point. I said it is easier to suppose she felt no pain and in you’re response you referred to her feelings after the events …”Do we even know if she feels that way [terrible]?  Does it even matter?  I’m sure plenty of people who did terrible things feel bad afterwards, but the deed is still done”… and not to the dreadful pain which led her to do what she did. [And before the damned determinists get started, or the determinist straw men are stood up and knocked down, this does not let her off either.]

  34. I think prison is silly for murder in the first, no matter what. Premeditated murder is the sign for mental instability. The act confirms the illness.

  35. State hospital for life. 

    What, no therapy? She is permanently insane? Irrevocably evil?

  36. I feel I need to chime in here. I am a woman and I am Pro-Choice. It’s my body and I should have the right to do with it as I please. An unborn child is still part of the mother’s body.

    Now life is not so black and white unfortunately. I agree that if a woman is attacked by someone and it results in a miscarriage then the attacker should be charged with murder. But how can we do that if the unborn child is still part of the mother’s body. If a limb is severed we don’t charge people with murdering a limb….

    Now on the other side. If we take away a mother’s right to do what she wishes with her body, then what about rape victims or other unexpected pregnancies?

    So there in lies the rub….both sides want to have their cake and eat it too. I don’t know how to solve this issue.

    In regards to this case…..murder??? Seriously? I understand that her baby was almost to term but again this is not a black and white thing. Obviously trying to take her own life should put up a red flag in regards to her mental state.

    This woman needs help, not jail…and I would also like the father of the child to take some responsibility here. Because right now the message is that if a man gets a woman pregnant then abandons her, he’s scott free and doesn’t have to face any responsibility for the child that is half his DNA.

    It takes 2 to make a baby. And if unborn children have all the rights of born children, then both parents should be equally responsible for the unborn child’s welfare and not just the woman because the woman has no option to walk away like a man does.

  37. She is currently hazardous material, not evil. Life is extreme but I think an extended period of monitoring is mandatory. You go to hospital for therapy; that’s why I think prison is wrong. She needs medical intervention not punishment. Her punishment is being so pathetic.


    A Siamese twin may kill the other? If they are just a limb.


    A rape victim is incapable of peeing on a
    stick, regularly? Oh no, that’s right, the trauma. It is traumatic, very
    traumatic but more so than killing a baby? Give me a break.


    It’s about timing. To have good timing you need
    to be aware. Anyone who says they didn’t know, never tried to find out. They
    didn’t care whether or not they are killing a consciousness or a bunch of
    cells. Perhaps they think because they are pro choice, they can kill it


    “Well, I guess if I start to look pregnant,
    I’ll just flush it out.”


    Too damn late. Insensitive, I know.


    You have choice but if you choose to get off
    the bus when it is going at its fastest speed and not when it is stopped you’re
    an idiot.


    There is a point when the tough shit factor
    plays its hand.


    It’s all about the timing.

Leave a Reply