Purvi Patel, an Indian American resident of northern Indiana, received a 36-year sentence Mar. 30 at the St. Joseph County Courthouse in South Bend, Indiana, on charges that she aborted a seven-month fetus and threw it in a dumpster while it was still alive.

Patel, who had posted bail and was in home custody after she was found guilty of the charges in February, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after the sentence was handed down. She was immediately remanded to St. Georges County Jail, but will likely serve out her sentence in Indiana Women’s Prison.

The 33-year-old woman received six years on the charges of feticide and 30 years on the charge of neglecting a child: she will be allowed to serve the two sentences concurrently. Patel is mandated to serve 20 years in prison and will then serve a 10-year suspended sentence.

The unmarried woman became pregnant in 2013, allegedly by a man who worked with her at her father’s restaurant in Mishiwaka, Indiana. Late into her pregnancy, according to court testimony, Patel bought $72 of pills from Hong Kong off the Internet in an attempt to abort the fetus.

According to court documents, Patel arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mishiwaka late evening July 13, 2013, bleeding profusely from her vaginal area. Emergency room doctors determined that Patel had just delivered a baby, but the young woman initially denied she had ever been pregnant. Obstetrician Tracy Byrne, who attended to Patel in the ER, informed the woman that she had just delivered a baby but the accused woman continued to deny that she had been pregnant.

Byrne asked for a second opinion from physician Kelly McGuire, who confirmed that Patel had just delivered a baby. Patel then relented and told McGuire and Byrne that she had just delivered a two-month-old fetus, but – believing it was dead – had wrapped the body in a bag and placed it in a dumpster outside a Super Target near her home.

Police were then called in and conducted a frantic search of the area trying to locate the body, according to testimony by South Bend, Indiana, police officer Galen Pelletier. McGuire also went on the search, combing through several dumpsters before the body was discovered outside the family’s restaurant.

Detectives then confiscated Patel’s cell phone and found over 52,000 text messages exchanged between Patel and her former best friend, Felicia Turnbo. In the messages, Patel told Turnbo that she was pregnant and planned to buy pills over the Internet from Hong Kong to abort the baby. But Indiana physician Kelly McGuire testified in court that the pills would only have worked if Patel was less than nine months along.

According to court documents, Patel arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mishiwaka late evening July 13, 2013, bleeding profusely from her vaginal area. Emergency room doctors determined that Patel had just delivered a baby, but the young woman repeatedly denied she had been pregnant. After McGuire was called in and conclusively determined that Patel had been pregnant, the Indian American woman relented and said she had delivered a two-month-old fetus, but – believing it was dead – had wrapped the body in a bag and placed it in a dumpster outside a Super Target near her home.

Police were then called in and conducted a frantic search of the area trying to locate the body, according to testimony by South Bend, Indiana police officer Galen Pelletier. McGuire also went on the search, combing through several dumpsters before the body was discovered outside the family’s restaurant.

Pathologist Joseph Prahlow, who examined the fetus shortly after the body was discovered, said that Patel’s fetus still had air in its lungs when it was found, meaning it must have taken a breath. Prahlow told jurors that he had performed a “floatation test” on the fetus; the lungs floated, but the liver sank, meaning it had not decomposed, said the pathologist.

Prahlow accused Patel of homicide, stating that there would not be air in the lungs if the fetus – thought to be about 25 weeks old – was a stillborn.  

Kathrine Jack, attorney for the Indiana chapter of the National Association of Pregnant Women, told India-West she was disappointed but not surprised by the sentence. NAPW filed an amicus curie brief with the court, in support of Patel.

The charges against Patel were contradictory and inconsistent, stated Jack, noting that the young woman was convicted of aborting a fetus but was also found guilty of neglecting a child. The attorney also stated that the flotation test, used to determine if the baby was still alive, is outdated. Patel had told police she tried to resuscitate the baby by performing CPR; therefore, air could still have been in the lungs even if the baby was dead when Patel put it in the dumpster.

Indiana has long maintained a ban on partial-birth abortions, defined as the vaginal delivery of a late-term living fetus which is killed shortly thereafter.

Patel has 30 days to appeal her sentence. Jack told India-West that she expects a number of organizations to join in on the amicus brief to avoid the case from setting a precedent.

“This decision discourages women from seeking medical attention in difficult deliveries,” said Jack, adding: “Any time a woman expresses ambivalence about her pregnancy, it could be used against her.”

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