An Indiana appeals court dropped feticide charges against Purvi Patel, the first woman in the US sent to prison for allegedly inducing her own abortion. The court unanimously ruled that Indiana’s feticide law was not intended to apply to the pregnant person but to prosecute people who harmed them and their fetus. The court also reduced the severity of a lesser charge — “neglecting a dependent,” for allegedly leaving her live newborn in the dumpster. Instead of a 20 year prison sentence for these convictions, Patel is looking at a three-year sentence, which is still a blow to reproductive health rights in the US.
Patel went to a hospital in 2013 because she was bleeding heavily and explained to doctors she had given birth to a stillborn and left the remains in a dumpster outside of her home. She believed she was only 10-12 weeks along. Patel needed emergency surgery to remove the placenta. After noticing how far along Patel was in her pregnancy, her doctor called the police, who proceeded to arrest her on charges that her baby was briefly alive. Later, investigators found out that Patel had taken abortion pills she had bought online. Patel was convicted in April 2015.
If it weren’t maddening enough to arrest Patel for essentially having a miscarriage, Patel’s charges didn’t make any sense, because they were based on contradictory claims. The state argued Patel committed feticide — which means the death of a fetus — but they also argued she had a live birth and neglected the child. The court finally decided to have the feticide conviction thrown out and the neglect charge reduced.
In a 42-page ruling, by Judge Terry A Crone, the court reduced the child neglect charge by an order of magnitude. And it reproached prosecutors for charging Patel under the state’s 2009 feticide law, saying there was no evidence that lawmakers intended the law to punish pregnant women. Indiana passed the measure in 2009 after a pregnant woman was shot and lost the twins she was carrying.
“Given that the legislature decriminalized abortion with respect to pregnant women only two years before it enacted the feticide statute, we conclude that the legislature never intended the feticide statute to apply to pregnant women,” the decision declared. “Therefore, we vacate Patel’s feticide conviction.”
However, there wasn’t enough justice served for Purvi Patel. The court held they had sufficient evidence to show that Patel knew the fetus was alive and could’ve saved the infant’s life if she had sought medical attention. Patel’s appeals team challenged the integrity of the “lung float test,” a forensic test that dates back to the 17th century used to determine if a fetus took a breath before dying. The court agreed the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the infant could have survived, regardless of whether Patel sought medical attention or not. But the court still kept her neglect charge, reducing it from a class A felony to a class D felony — proof our government keeps justifying the punishment of people seeking abortion.
“The Indiana court of appeals … ultimately failed Purvi Patel,” Yamani Hernandez, the director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement Friday. “People of color are bearing the brunt of unscientific laws and misplaced moral outrage against abortion, which is blurring into the territory of miscarriage, putting any pregnant person at risk of prosecution and incarceration. It needs to stop, and the decision didn’t go far enough to restore full justice for Purvi Patel.”
Patel’s case comes during a time when conservative lawmakers have enacted a record number of abortion restriction laws within the last few years, making it difficult for people — especially poor, women of color living in rural areas — in numerous states to access reproductive health care including abortions. Patel’s case is a prime of example of how our government would rather punish women for making decisions about her own body and also restrict information, support and resources for pregnant people than provide access to a full range of reproductive choices. Although Patel will serve less time than initially expected, which is a partial victory, it’s still unfortunate she has to spend time in prison at all for wanting to terminate her pregnancy when safe avenues of termination were blocked.