The manslaughter indictment of a pregnant Alabama woman whose unborn child died she was shot during a fight with another woman raises interesting legal questions, along with an uproar across the nation.

The indictment says 28-year-old Marshae Jones did “intentionally cause the death” of “Unborn Baby Jones by initiating a fight knowing she was five months pregnant.”

Attorneys for Jones call the charges “completely unreasonable and unjust.”

Jones and another woman, Ebony Jemison, were arguing in the parking lot of a Jefferson County Dollar General store when Jemison fired the shot that injured Jones and led to the death of fetus. Jemison is not charged; an investigation found she fired in self-defense.

The indictment puts the matter into the hands of Jefferson County District Attorney Lynneice O. Washington, who said Monday that she respects the decision of the grand jury, but she has not decided whether she’ll prosecute Jones.

There are laws to protect the unborn from violence. A federal law, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, recognizes an embryo of fetus in utero as a legal victim if injured or killed in the course of an array of crimes.

However the matter is complicated by the lack of charges against Jemison, and by a provision in the federal law that appears to exempt “any woman with respect to her unborn child.” [Title 18, Section 1841 (c) (3)]

Surely the eyes of the nation will be watching Alabama as this case unfolds, not only for its own merits but for its inevitable effect on the broader issue of fetal personhood.

Regardless, we echo the words of D.A. Washington, who called the matter “a truly tragic case.

“The fact that this tragedy was 100 percent avoidable makes this case even more disheartening.”

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