The Purvi Patel Case: Indiana Woman Charged with Feticide Sentenced to 20 years in Prison

Kelly Spencer, Copy Editor

In 2013, a young Indian-American woman named Purvi Patel walked into a hospital in South Bend, Indiana bleeding from a miscarriage. When asked by doctors what she had done with the fetus, Patel explained that after unsuccessful attempts at resuscitating she saw no other option than to dispose of it.

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Afraid of what her conservative Hindu family might do, Patel felt helpless. While talking with police, she explained, “I assumed because the baby was dead there was nothing to do.”

On March 30, 33-year-old Patel was sentenced to 20 years incarceration after being the first person in the United States to be sent to prison for feticide. Patel was charged with both feticide and neglect of a minor, two seemingly contradictory counts.  Democracy Now! surmised Chief Deputy Mark Roule’s explanation: “the feticide charge against Patel requires only intent to unlawfully terminate a pregnancy and in this case the pregnancy was terminated with a live birth triggered by abortion pills.”

While Patel claimed the incident happened due to a miscarriage, the prosecution accused her of ingesting drugs used to induce abortions. Their argument was based on a texting conversation she had with a friend regarding the possibility of purchasing such drugs online, however, none were found in her system.

The pills Patel was accused of taking are legal in the US when authorized with a prescription and the Indiana feticide statute recognizes the abortion-inducing medication allegedly used as a legal means of abortion, however, not when acquired online. Patel’s Hindu upbringing may have had something to do with her inquiring for the drugs online instead of asking for a prescription from a licensed doctor.

The prosecution also claimed that the fetus had been born alive, charging Patel with an added count of neglect of a minor. In order to make such a claim, they utilized the highly contested Float Test. The Float Test determines if there was air in the lungs of a fetus or newborn by placing the lungs in water. If they float, it is assumed the fetus took a breath, in which it would be considered a live birth. However, the test is considered invalid by many due to the fact that there are many ways air can get into the lungs.

Shaku Teas, the pathologist for the defense, explained that at 23 to 24 weeks gestation, the lungs of the fetus could not have been developed enough to take a breath.

Indiana is one of 38 states with feticide laws in place, and as of recently the wheels of reproductive rights have been reversing. Democracy Now! reported that “lawmakers across the country have introduced at least 235 bills restricting abortion in 2015 alone.”

Lynn Paltrow, Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women explained, “Purvi Patel is an amazing example of the fact that it’s not just reproductive rights that are under attack, it is the personhood of people who can get pregnant.”

She compared Patel to another feticide case in Indiana, that of Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant who, in 2011, was charged with murder and attempted feticide after voluntarily hospitalizing herself following an attempted suicide. Paltrow recognizes an increasing trend in the criminalization of pregnant women, as “women’s pregnancies are now becoming the subject of policing, prosecution, and severe sentences in an age of mass incarceration.”

Cases like that of Patel and Shuai may soon be considered ordinary as the policing of women’s bodies and reproductive rights continue to rise across the country.

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