Indiana Forum: Challenging Stigma and Misinformation in the Bei Bei Shuai case

On Wednesday evening June 26, 2013, approximately 50 people attended an Indianapolis forum sponsored by a dozen local and national organizations.

The forum, Suicide & Mental Health: Should Pregnant Women Be Treated Differently?, sparked a compelling op-ed by Professor Terry Jett in the Indianapolis Star, “Bei Bei Shuai was vulnerable and pregnant, but not a criminal,” and an article about the event and one of its organizers, “Bei Bei Shuai case leads Butler professor to hold forum on pregnancy and suicide.”

The attendees, who included interested community members, health activists, treatment providers, attorneys, and medical students, were engaged and eager to learn about suicide and suicidal ideation among pregnant women. The panel featured Dr. Laura Miller, Director of the Women's Mental Health Fellowship at Brigham and Women's HealthCare, Dr. Brownsyn Tucker Edmonds, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Indiana University School of Medicine, and Marianne Halbert, the Criminal Justice Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Indiana Chapter.

The Indiana Bei Bei Shuai case provided one example of the need for this forum. In December 2010, Bei Bei Shuai, a woman who attempted suicide while 33 weeks pregnant, was rescued and underwent early cesarean surgery in a desperate effort to save her baby. Her baby was prematurely born alive but succumbed after four days of intensive care. As a result of her suicide attempt while pregnant, Bei Bei Shuai was arrested. She now faces a trial – unprecedented in US history – for murder of a viable fetus and attempted feticide.

Dr. Miller's presentation provided a comprehensive overview of suicide in general and suicide (attempted and successful) by pregnant women in particular. She went beyond psychological factors to address the social and environmental influences (e.g., the importance of a social support network) as well as cultural factors. Dr. Miller discussed research and findings concerning pregnant women and suicide, making clear that pregnant women, like other people, often confront emotions beyond their conscious control. Dr. Tucker Edmonds offered an OB/GYN’s perspective on pregnant women who attempt suicide, and Ms. Halbert discussed how the precedent set in the Bei Bei Shuai case would make the state’s attempted feticide and murder of a viable fetus statutes applicable to all pregnant women.

The co-sponsors for this event were: The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide - Indiana Chapter; Backline; Demia (Butler University's student chapter of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance); Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies at Butler University; Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice; Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Indiana University - Bloomington; Mental Health America of Indiana; National Alliance on Mental Illness of Indiana; National Perinatal Association; Pregnancy Justice; National Asian and Pacific American Women's Forum; and National Organization for Women of Indiana.

Watch video of the event here.