State vs. Shuai, a behind the scenes documentary, weaves an intimate personal narrative with the dramatic intensity of a high stakes criminal case, raising questions about “personhood laws”, immigrants’ rights, and the criminal justice system’s treatment of the mentally ill.
State vs. Shuai follows the high stakes trial of a woman, charged with murder and feticide, who attempted to commit suicide while pregnant. This lone woman is at the center of a legal maelstrom that includes her defense attorney, the opposing prosecutor, the politicians who sponsored the law that led to her arrest, and representatives from both sides of a bitterly contested divide. Across the United States, women are being prosecuted for behavior during their pregnancies that has been deemed harmful to the fetuses they are carrying. These laws are part of a larger national effort to declare an unborn child a person and therefore entitled to protection under the 14th Amendment. Though the movement began after the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, it has, on the state level, recently gathered steam. “Unborn victims of violence” laws now exist in thirty-eight states, and personhood and feticide laws are increasingly common. This legislation has led to several high profile cases that illuminate new, untested, territory in the nation’s on-going discussion over abortion, calling into question at least some of the more fixed positions on both sides of the debate.