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Woman Who Shot Herself Is Charged in Fetus' Death

September 10, 1994| from Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A woman who claimed she didn't have enough money for an abortion has been charged with murder for allegedly killing her 6-month-old fetus by shooting herself in the womb.

The baby girl was delivered March 27 by emergency Cesarean section after she was shot in the wrist. After a week, her underdeveloped kidneys began to fail and her body filled with fluids. She died April 11.

Her mother, Kawana Michele Ashley, 19, was charged Wednesday with third-degree murder and manslaughter. She was being held Friday at the Pinellas County Jail on $50,000 bond.

Ashley has a 3-year-old son, no job and was living with her grandmother. She feared her grandmother would not accept another child, said Ashley's friend, Sharrona Faye Wright.

The baby's father offered help but "nothing ever happened," Wright said.

"She was holding all of that stuff in, and it just got to her after a while," Wright said. "Everything was pressure on her. I think she just lost it."

Ashley was turned down for an abortion at a St. Petersburg clinic because she did not have enough money. Area clinics said an abortion performed 20 weeks into pregnancy can cost $1,300 to $1,800.

Wright said she did not believe Ashley when she suggested shooting herself.

"We were talking about something else and, all of a sudden, she just said she would just shoot herself in the stomach," Wright recalled. "I just brushed it off."

But Ashley was serious. She fired a .22-caliber pistol into the right side of her womb, according to court records.

Women's rights groups call the story a tragic example of a failed system. Prosecutors call it murder. They delayed filing charges because the case was so complicated.

Under Florida law, a fetus able to live outside the womb is considered a person, clearing the way for the manslaughter count. The third-degree murder charge is based on a death resulting from an illegal act: In this case, an illegal abortion.

Ashley is being represented by public defender Bruce Johnson, who did not immediately return a phone call Friday.

Some women's rights groups used Ashley's story to support their call for government-funded abortions.

"This young woman was crying out for help and nobody heard her, as is so often the case with the poor," said Brenda Joyner, director of the Feminist Women's Health Center in Tallahassee, one of the few clinics in the state that will provide free or low-cost abortions to poor women.

"In this case, the women's movement has failed her, the Florida Legislature has failed her and the health care system has failed her," Joyner said.

Joyner, who is on the board of the National Organization for Women, said she would ask NOW to assist in Ashley's defense.

But Rai Rojas, president of Florida Right to Life, said the death could have been averted with adoption counseling.

"We could have provided a family to adopt this child," he said. "The true lament is that we couldn't reach out to this poor girl and offer her more than just death as an option."

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