Indiana is receiving a lot of unwanted national attention in 2015. Now it is for the first time a woman in the U.S. has been convicted and sentenced for attempting to end her own pregnancy.
Purvi Patel, 33, a resident of Granger, Indiana, was convicted of felony child neglect and feticide in February 2015, and then sentenced in late March 2015 to 30 years for the neglect conviction (with 10 years suspended) and 6 years for the feticide conviction, to run concurrently.
Indiana and more than 30 other states (including California under California Penal Code §187(a)), criminalizes “Feticide,” the unlawful killing of a fetus.
Indiana’s Feticide statute was reportedly designed to protect pregnant women from abusive partners, unscrupulous abortionists, etc. Anti-abortion camps pointedly state that the statute is not designed to punish pregnant women. In fact, the statute states that feticide is the “knowing or intentional termination of another’s pregnancy.”
Fast-forward to July 2013. Purvi Patel, who is from a conservative Hindu family, is pregnant due to an affair with a coworker. Though pills are available through prescription in the U. S. to end her pregnancy, she is fearful of her family discovering her pregnancy, so she orders the pills illegally online. She may or may not have taken the pills. She miscarries, makes a weak attempt to resuscitate the fetus but reportedly sees that it is dead. She throws the fetus in the dumpster behind her parents’ restaurant and, because she is still cramping and bleeding, goes to the hospital. She tells the hospital staff that she miscarried. They ask where the dead fetus is and though she initially lies, she eventually admits to throwing it in the dumpster. Police recover the dead fetus.
Patel was prosecuted for Feticide as well as Child Neglect because, according to the prosecutor, a person can be guilty of Feticide trying to end a pregnancy, even if the fetus survives. The statute exempts legal abortions but Patel is criminally prosecuted for allegedly using the illegally obtained pills and for letting the fetus die subject her to criminal prosecution.
The Defense expert states that the fetus was stillborn, only 23 or 24 weeks along in gestation, with lungs that were not developed enough for breathing. The Prosecution expert testified that the fetus was born alive due to the “floating lungs test” and other factors. The posthumous “floating lungs test”: if the lungs float in water, the baby took at least 1 breath; if they sink, the fetus died before exiting the womb. The “floating lungs test” has been discredited since for more than 100 years because lungs might float for several reasons other than that all-important single breath.
Advocates for pro-choice and pregnant women are simultaneously worried and livid, as the conviction and severe punishment of Patel bode ill for pregnant women who choose to end their own pregnancies.
Patel intends to appeal, of course.
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