Purvi Patel, who was convicted of feticide and felony neglect last month in Indiana for what she continually asserts was a miscarriage, filed an appeal arguing there is no proof she took drugs to intentionally end her pregnancy.
A Stanford law professor, Lawrence Marshall, told WSBT 22 that he’s taking Patel’s case pro bono. Marshall says the case “cries out for reversal.”
“We are definitely going to do everything in our power to make sure the justices see the perspective of various reasons that the case is so troublesome,” Marshall said.
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. The case has inspired thousands of signatures on a petition calling for Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana State Legislature to change the Indiana laws that punish women who miscarry.
Indiana has a law in place banning “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 of violating it.
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.”
St. Joseph County courts now have 90 days to get case transcripts to Patel’s lawyers, who will later submit a brief to the state Court of Appeals. While it could take more than a year for the court to reach a decision about whether the convictions should be overturned, Patel is sitting in jail, waiting to be transported to prison, and is serving her 20-year sentence.
Media Resources: RH Reality Check 4/28/2015; WSBT 22 4/27/2015; Feministing 3/31/2015; Feminist Newswire 4/2/2015; The Washington Post 4/1/2015; PRI 3/13/2015; Slate 2/5/2015