Purvi Patel, who was convicted of feticide and criminal neglect of a minor, will still serve prison time, possibly as long as six years, despite an Indiana appellate court ruling July 22 which overturned the feticide conviction.
The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, noting it was contrary to the legislative intent and purpose of the state’s feticide law. The panel of judges also reduced the conviction of criminal neglect of a minor from a Class A felony to a Class D felony. The Indian American woman will continue to serve prison time until she is resentenced on the lower charge.
The state could also decide to appeal the court’s ruling.
Patel was serving a 20-year sentence in prison after being convicted in March 2015 of both charges. In 2013, the 35-year-old Granger, Indiana, woman found herself pregnant while having an affair with a married man, with whom she worked at her family’s restaurant. Patel bought abortion-inducing drugs online, according to court records. Prosecutors claimed she took the pills and had a self-induced abortion of a fetus, possibly 25-30 weeks old. After aborting, Patel allegedly threw the aborted fetus into a dumpster behind the family’s restaurant and then went to a hospital emergency room to get help for her prolonged bleeding.
Prosecutors said the fetus was still alive when Patel wrapped it in a plastic bag and discarded it, and during the trial, produced the results of a breathing test which determined the fetus had air in its lungs and was thus born alive.
Patel was initially released on bond until her trial but began serving time in March 2015. Her lawyers appealed the conviction, with support from several pro-choice organizations and Indian American civil rights organizations, including South Asian Americans Leading Together and Chicago, Illinois-based Apna Ghar. Women's advocacy groups say the case marked the first time a state feticide law was used against a woman because of an alleged self-induced abortion. Similar laws are in place in 38 states.
Neha Gill, executive director of Apna Ghar, told India-West: “It is unbelievable that Purvi got sentenced in the way she did. It was unfair and unjust.”
“This was a concerted attack on women and women’s bodies. Our systems and institutions work against women. It was very upsetting to see what initially happened.”
Gill said it was “outrageous” that Patel was charged with both feticide and criminal neglect of a minor. “The charge of feticide would imply that the fetus was killed, but then criminal neglect of a minor implies a live baby,” said the Indian American women’s rights advocate.
During the appeal, Patel’s attorneys argued there was insufficient evidence to show that she had aborted a fetus which was alive. Judge Nancy Vaidik asked prosecutors how the state could defend Patel's conviction on a charge of neglect of a dependent resulting in death if there was not conclusive evidence the child was born alive and needed medical care.
“You can't endanger a dead baby, can you?'' Vaidik asked, as reported by the Associated Press.
Apna Ghar joined 26 organizations to file an amicus brief on Patel’s behalf during the appeal process. The organization also initiated a letter-writing campaign to Patel, to show the young woman that there was support for her in her community.
Gill told India-West that Patel has already served a lot of time in prison and hoped that the Appeals Court would give her a lighter sentence or no prison time on the Class D felony.
Lisa Sangoi, staff attorney for the New York-based organization National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said in a press statement: “We are very concerned that any neglect charge was upheld, given the lack of actual evidence of a live birth or that Patel could have, but failed to, obtain medical care immediately following the delivery."
“The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, which also filed an amicus brief supporting Patel, applauded the Indiana Court of Appeals. “Feticide laws must not be used to prosecute women for their own abortions. No woman should fear for her safety or freedom based on the outcome of her pregnancy, and today’s ruling brings us one step closer to justice for Patel and women across the country,” said NAPAWF.
“There is much more work to be done to ensure that women — particularly AAPI women, low-income women and all women of color — are not punished for their pregnancy outcomes.”
“Rather than dedicating our scarce resources to the policing of women’s pregnancies, lawmakers should expand access to quality, affordable and culturally competent health care. Especially for women of color and immigrant women, laws that impose surveillance on women’s pregnancies only contribute to barriers to health services and basic rights,” said NAPAWF.
The organization noted that Patel could be eligible for immediate release while the court determines her sentence on the lowered charges.