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

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

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  • Ang

    This makes me so angry!!! This is what happens when you outlaw women’s rights! This is why I’m pro choice. Why would I want any woman to use unsafe methods to end a pregnancy over a physician specifically trained in the field! And see where it leads!!! Now you can get second degree murder if your child dies during labor and birth if you choose a home delivery!?!?! Any mother that chooses to have a child naturally at home under the care of a professionally trained mid wife should not go to jail. Next it will be the mid wife’s fault. And on top of that not even the male partner is considered in the situation. But all I ever here from men is “it’s my baby too. I have rights.” Then stand up for women’s rights too!!

  • Hannah

    Even if she took the pills, there is no way she should see the inside of a jail cell.

    • Susan Cox

      But she has for over a year already!

  • Wren

    Interesting that both prosecuted women have Indian surnames (and are therefore Indian, I presume?). Is this just a sick twisted coincidence??

  • Cassandra

    This case should give every woman who actually cares about women the howling fantods and then some. Treating women this way is barbaric.