Atlanta, GA, July 22: The Indiana Court of Appeals has overturned the feticide conviction of Purvi Patel who was found guilty last year of killing her premature infant by taking abortion-inducing drugs.
However, the court upheld a lower-level felony neglect of a dependent conviction, according to Associated Press. That carries a maximum prison sentence of three years.
Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2015, two years after her self-induced abortion at her family’s home. The appeals court ruled that the state Legislature didn’t intend for the feticide law “to be used to prosecute women for their own abortions.”
Patel comes from a family of Indian immigrants who settled in Granger,Indiana, a suburb ofSouth Bend.
In July 2013, she showed up at the emergency room of St. Joseph Regional Medical Centre in the town ofMishawaka, bleeding heavily. Doctors quickly realized she’d lost a pregnancy and she confessed that she’d left the fetus in a dumpster outside Moe’s Southwest Grill in Granger, a restaurant Patel’s parents owned.
Patel’s defense had argued then that Patel, who’d gotten no prenatal care, had had a sudden miscarriage and that the fetus was not born alive. Much of Patel’s trial centered on the alleged gestational age of the fetus: Patel’s defense argued the fetus was no more than 22-24 weeks old, and thus not viable even in a medical setting. Prosecutors argued Patel’s pregnancy was up to 30 weeks along and the baby had been born alive, reports pri.org.
In addition to the charge of neglect, prosecutors later added a charge of “feticide” based on text messages found on Patel’s phone showing that she took miscarriage-inducing drugs purchased online. Toxicologists could not find any trace of such drugs in her body or that of the fetus, but the evidence was enough to convince a jury that Patel had committed feticide, a charge normally used against those who harm pregnant women, not pregnant women themselves.
There were also concerns Patel may be a victim of wider political dynamics inIndiana. The judge, Elizabeth Hurley, the first superior court appointee byIndiana’s conservative governor, Mike Pence, allowed the jury to view a video of police interrogating Patel in post-operative recovery, despite defense arguments that Patel’s Miranda rights were ignored and she was recovering from sedation and severe blood loss during the questioning.
“Even assuming Indiana’s feticide law could somehow become an abortion criminalization law, many people were initially baffled by how Patel could be charged with two seemingly contradictory charges: feticide for ending a pregnancy and also child neglect for giving birth to a baby and then failing to care for it,” said Lynn M. Paltrow of politicalresearch.org. “The state’s explanation took the interpretation of the feticide law to an even further extreme as prosecutor Ken Cotter argued, “a person can be guilty of feticide even if the fetus in question survives, as long as a deliberate attempt was made to ‘terminate’ the pregnancy ‘with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.’”
“Put another way, Indiana’s feticide law is now an abortion criminalization law that not only can be used to punish a woman who ends her pregnancy, but also can be used to punish a woman who even attempts to end her own pregnancy.”
Patel is the first woman convicted of feticide inIndiana, and only the second to be charged.
Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai faced feticide charges two years ago in the state, and both cases highlight an emerging “gray area” for pregnant women within theUSlegal system.