Purvi Patel, who was convicted in February on charges of feticide and neglect of a
dependent, was sentenced
March 30 by an Indiana judge
to a total of 41 years.
She was facing up to 70 years for what she has maintaining consistently was a miscarriage.
Prosecutors in the case claimed Patel, 33, attempted to
terminate her own pregnancy, an act sufficient to be
charged under the state’s feticide law, and then gave birth
to a child whom she allowed to die. She is the first woman
in the United States to be charged, convicted, and sentenced for feticide, an act that causes death to a fetus and
a crime around which the laws have been a hot-button
issue between reproductive rights and right-to-life advocates.
“Indiana has now made its feticide law a tool for punish-
ing women who attempt to terminate their own pregnan-
cies and women who suffer miscarriages and stillbirths,”
Lynn Paltrow, executive director, National Advocates for
Pregnant Women, told India Abroad. “The prosecution,
the verdict, and the sentence in this case demonstrate that
despite the claims to the contrary, the real result of the
anti-abortion movement, if not its actual intended goal, is
to punish women for terminating pregnancies.”
Patel was arrested in July 2013 after going to the emer-
gency room at St Joseph Regional Medical Center in
Mishawaka, Indiana. She was bleeding heavily after deliv-
ering a premature fetus, which she said was not alive.
Though she initially denied having been pregnant, she
ultimately told the emergency care attendants that she had
a miscarriage and disposed of the dead fetus in a dump-
ster on her way to the hospital. The St Joseph medical
staff called the police, who interrogated Patel while she
was still admitted at the hospital, secured her cell phone
records, and recovered the fetus.
The state of Indiana contends that Patel’s text messages
to a friend prove that she purchased and took abortion
drugs in an attempt to end her pregnancy, and that when
those attempts were unsuccessful, the fetus she delivered
was not only alive but had a viable chance of living.
Critics of the case asserted that the scientific and medical
evidence available was not sufficient to prove this: Namely
that toxicology tests found no traces of either abortion
drug she was alleged to have taken in her bloodstream,
that the methodology utilized to determine whether the
fetus was alive was a widely discredited one, and that, even
if the fetus had been born alive, at that early stage of gestation it’s very likely it would not have been viable.
Reproductive justice and women’s rights’ activists around
the country were outraged by the case. The facts of the
case as well as the circumstances surrounding it led to a
wide range of groups and organizations working to support and advocate for Patel through raising their voices
and petitioning the court for leniency in her sentencing.
Sara Ainsworth, also of NAPW, said that the organization wrote an amicus brief on behalf of 25 public health
organizations outlining how cases like Patel’s discourage
women from getting prenatal care, undermine public
health, and, most simply, are cruel.
The court rejected the brief. And in the end Patel was
sentenced to 30 years for neglect, six
years for feticide, and five years of
probation adding up to 41 years. She
was ordered to serve the two sen-
tences concurrently, with 10 years
suspended, making her effective time
in prison 20 years.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” said Reverend Marie Siroky of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, who was at the hearing March 30. “At first
I was hopeful that she was going to get probation or com-
munity corrections. I can’t imagine that she has 20 years.
She’s 33. Twenty years for basically neglecting less than a
minute of life. It sounds odd, but really, that’s what it is.”
“( The judge) said that, in listening to the testimony, she
believed that Patel thought the doctor might tell her that
she was too far along to do what she wanted, and that’s not
looking at the facts — that’s the judge’s opinion of what she
thought Purvi was thinking in not seeing an OB doctor,”
Rev Siroky told India Abroad. “And she went on to say sev-
eral times that, ‘... You had his life in your hands and you
chose not to give him any chance.’”
But medical experts have differed. Though the prosecu-
tion initially stated that the pregnancy was 28 weeks along,
autopsy reports later showed that 23 to 24 weeks was more
accurate, and Dr Jen Gunter, an OBGYN who has written
about Patel’s case, explained that this early
Purvi Patel is the first woman in the US to be sentenced
to prison for feticide. Chaya Babu reports on the verdict
and the ripples of shock and fear
ROBERT FRANKLIN, SOU TH BEND TRIBUNE/AP PHOTO