When Pregnant Women Lose Their Rights

The Case Of Purvi Patel

Image: Robert Franklin/AP

Purvi Patel was sentenced  to 20 years in prison for committing feticide, a ruling that’s already caused uproar across the country. Patel, a 33-year-old woman from Indiana, was accused of illegally inducing her own abortion and  having allowed her baby to die. In July 2014, Patel visited an emergency room with severe bleeding and told doctors she’d miscarried. When asked about the fetus, she said she panicked, so she wrapped the fetal remains in a bag and threw the bag in a dumpster. At the time, Patel was living with her conservative Hindu parents and was in a relationship with a married co-worker. You can see why she felt it necessary to hide the pregnancy and dispose of the remains so quickly.

Patel’s explanation remained that she had a miscarriage delivered a stillborn baby. Not believing this, the prosecutors insisted that she induced a late-term abortion with pills she ordered on the internet and gave birth to a living fetus that died almost instantly. A toxicology report produced absolutely no evidence of such drugs in her system, however, prosecutors pointed to texts Patel exchanged with a friend in which she claimed to have ordered pills from a pharmacy in Hong Kong.

Even if Patel did self-induce herself to have an abortion, she would have had to face many legal restrictions she faced as a resident of Indiana. The state has only 11 abortion clinics and an exhaustive list of abortion restrictions.

  • Indiana prohibits certain qualified health-care professionals from performing abortions,
  • restricts young women’s access to abortion by requiring parental consent,
  • subjects abortion providers to targeted regulations not applied to other medical professionals,
  • subjects women to biased counseling and mandatory delays,
  • has passed unconstitutional bans on abortion,
  • prohibits certain state employees and organizations with state funding from referring women to abortion services,
  • restricts access to other reproductive health care,
  • and restricts low-income women’s access to abortion.

What’s even more outrageous is that Patel was arrested with 2 contradictory charges: feticide and child neglect. A charge of feticide requires the fetus to have died in the mother’s utero, in contrast, a child neglect charge requires the baby to have been alive and viable. She was convicted for both.

Without a doubt, Indiana is an extremely conservative and over-zealous state when it comes to such personal matters. There is no doubt that the criminalization of pregnancy — especially among poor women and women of color — has ramped up significantly in the past decade. Criminalizing miscarriages has become a way to punish women suspected of self-abortion. Efforts to ban abortion are increasingly tied into legal quests for personhood rights extending to fetuses, fertilized eggs, and even embryos.

Source: The Cut