Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman from Indiana, has been found guilty of feticide and neglect and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Patel was convicted of both terminating her pregnancy on purpose and abandoning a live, delivered fetus. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that she abandoned a living fetus – there was no evidence she took an abortion-inducing pill, and no proof the fetus was alive once it existed her body. Patel has remained consistent that what happened was that she suffered a miscarriage.
Indiana law bans “knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy” in any case except to produce a live birth, clear out a dead fetus, or to perform a legal abortion. Since Patel was accused of using illegal abortion drugs, and of abandoning a live fetus, she was convicted under this Indiana law.
The only evidence prosecutors used against Patel were text messages she sent to a friend talking about online abortion drugs. A toxicologist could not find any evidence of these types of drugs in Patel’s body or in the fetus. The only evidence used by prosecutors on the second charge was that the fetus, at 30 weeks old, could potentially have survived outside the womb, and its lungs passed a “floating test” that could possibly have suggested the baby drew breath at one point (the science of this test, which was developed in the 17th century, is highly contested).
“It’s an absolutely discredited test,” said Gregory Davis, who is a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky. “It boggles my mind that in the 21st century … this test is still being relied upon to determine whether a baby is born alive or dead.”
Patel received care at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center’s maternity ward after she was bleeding and showing an umbilical cord. Dr. Kelly McGuire, who later testified against Patel, called the police. Patel told doctors she has a miscarriage and left the fetus in a dumpster outside a shopping center. McGuire followed police cars to the scene and pronounced the fetus dead on arrival. Patel says she felt cramping that resulted in bleeding and a miscarriage. She says she tried to resuscitate the fetus but was unsuccessful, then was in too much shock to call the police and “didn’t know what else to do” because she didn’t want her parents to find out, so she put the fetus in the dumpster and went to the hospital.
“Any time a pregnant woman does something that can harm a fetus, now she has to worry, ‘Am I going to be charged with attempted feticide?’” David Orentlicher, a medical ethics specialist and former Indiana state representative told PRI. “If you discourage pregnant women from getting prenatal care, you’re not helping fetuses, you’re harming fetuses.”
Patel’s attorney plans to appeal the verdict.
Media Resources: Feministing 3/31/2015; The Washington Post 4/1/2015; PRI 3/13/2015; Slate 2/5/2015