An Indiana woman has been charged with feticide after she delivered prematurely and sought hospital treatment.
Purvi Patel, 33, sought help at an emergency room for vaginal bleeding where it was discovered that she had delivered prematurely at home. After investigation, police charged Patel with feticide, punishable with up to 20 years in prison, as well as neglect of a dependent. Her trial is set for Sept. 29.
Patel is not the first woman in Indiana to be charged with feticide: in 2012, Bei Bei Shuai was charged with feticide after Shuai, who was 33 weeks pregnant, attempted suicide.
“Once again prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes,” Lynn Paltrow, Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told The Guardian. “In the US, as a matter of constitutional law and human decency, no woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy,” Paltrow said.
Fetal homicide laws, which treat fetuses as “people” with rights separate from those of pregnant women, were promoted as ways to prevent violence against pregnant women. But they are often used to prosecute pregnant women themselves and have been criticized for deterring pregnant women, especially those suffering from drug dependence or mental illness, from seeking medical care or other social services.
“If you do your job as a woman and give perfect birth to a perfect baby, you’re safe,” said Sally Kohn, writing about the Patel case for the Daily Beast. “But God forbid anything go wrong, that you have any complications either due to your own actions or actions that could be attributed to you, that you as a woman fail in your duty as a vessel for the fetus—the rights of which the State of Indiana is clearly more invested in than your own. What then?”
Fetal homicide laws are akin to proposed “personhood amendments,” that have been defeated in several states, and will be on the North Dakota ballot this November, as well as in Colorado, where voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to define “person” and “child” in the state criminal code and Wrongful Death Act to include “unborn human beings.” If Colorado voters pass Amendment 67, “All pregnant women’s bodies would become potential crime scenes,” writes Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy & Research for the Feminist Majority Foundation, in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. Magazine.
Personhood measures, which grant rights to fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs, threaten abortion rights, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the woman, birth control, fertility treatments and some medical treatments for critically ill pregnant women. They also, like fetal homicide statutes, open up the possibility of criminal investigations into miscarriages. At least 38 states have enacted some type of fetal homicide law, and 23 of those laws apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy.
Media Resources: The Guardian 8/26/14; The Daily Beast 8/27/14; Ms. Magazine Fall 2014; National Conference of State Legislators 2/13; Ms. Blog 8/7/13