Purvi Patel appeals feticide conviction, 20-year prison sentence for self-induced abortion

Purvi Patel

Yesterday, the Indiana appellate court heard oral arguments from Purvi Patel’s lawyers, appealing her conviction on charges of feticide and neglect of a dependent.

Patel was arrested in 2013, after she sought medical care for a miscarriage that left her with heavy vaginal bleeding (losing 20 per cent of her blood) and requiring surgery to remove placenta that she had not passed. Patel had ordered abortion pills online through China, though it is not confirmed that she took them to in order to cause the violent miscarriage. A doctor, who claims he is pro-life, called the authorities. Patel awoke from surgery to a police officer stationed at her bed.

In March 2015, Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison, making her the first U.S. woman to be convicted and sentenced on a feticide charge in connection to her own miscarriage. Following a pattern of states attempting to circumvent women’s federal right to abortion in creative ways, Patel’s conviction sets the precedent for punishing women in new ways, such as for medication abortions or at-home births where the baby does not survive. (One such case happened recently in Staten Island, New York, when Nausheen Rahman was charged with second-degree murder when her baby didn’t survive a home-birth.)

Upon sentencing, Patel immediately appealed. Her new legal team argues that several errors were made in the application of the feticide law and that evidence prosecutors used does not apply to her alleged actions in the miscarriage.

Ultimately, at stake in the appeal is the question of whether or not the state’s feticide law can be used to prosecute women for having a self-induced abortion. In the appellate brief filed last fall, Patel’s lawyers argued that the feticide law had “no role in criminalizing unlawful abortions, which are dealt with through a separate statute.” Furthermore, they argue that the law was passed in order to protect pregnant women (from a third party, such as an abusive partner), not to outlaw abortion.

Two dozen women’s advocacy groups filed amicus briefs in favor of Patel, including Planned Parenthood. Yet Patel has already served over a year behind bars. The question of whether or not Purvi Patel will have justice will crucially determine the future in the lives of many American women.

Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.