NEWSFLASH: First-Ever Woman Sentenced for Feticide

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This week, 33-year-old Purvi Patel became the first woman in the United States to be convicted and sentenced on a feticide charge.

Patel was arrested in the summer of 2013 after she sought medical attention at an Indiana hospital for heavy vaginal bleeding. After a doctor found an umbilical cord, she told staff she had suffered a miscarriage earlier and placed the 24-week-old stillborn fetus in a dumpster. Prosecutors insist the fetus was not stillborn but alive when she discarded it, and Patel was found guilty of feticide in addition to felony neglect. She could now spend the next 20 years in prison.

Patel comes from a traditional Hindu family where extramarital sex is condemned, and her legal team argued that she was in shock when she gave birth to a stillborn fetus. This led her to abandon the fetus and later try to conceal her miscarriage from medical authorities.

Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, believes the harsh treatment of Patel shows the true purpose of feticide laws:

“While no woman should face criminal charges for having an abortion or experiencing a pregnancy loss, the cruel length of this sentence confirms that feticide and other measures promoted by anti-abortion organizations are intended to punish not protect women.”

This case is reminiscent of that of another woman of color—also in Indiana—Bei Bei Shuai. In 2011, she was held in prison on feticide charges—she attempted suicide while pregnant—though the charges were later dropped. After two years of litigation, a plea deal was reached and Shuai is now a free woman.

Women of color, especially those who are immigrants or come from immigrant families, are especially vulnerable when it comes to navigating our country’s legal system and often don’t have the same protections and resources other women do.

Thirty-eight states currently have feticide laws on the books, and nearly a third of those states have laws that apply to the early weeks of pregnancy. The Patel case has reproductive-rights activists concerned that it could set a precedent for criminalizing pregnancy.

Patel’s lawyer plans to file an appeal.

Take action by signing our petition to free Purvi Patel!

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Photo courtesy of Juan Castillas via Creative Commons 2.0.

Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. Cat Thompson says:
  2. I have always felt that these feticide laws were purposely created to punish women, no matter how many anti-choice groups claimed otherwise. Of course they would claim these laws “protect” women, it would have made them look very bad in the public eye if they were honest about the true intent of these laws. And they might well not have passed if their real intent was known.

    However, these two cases, and the extreme punishments suffered by these two women, prove — to me at least — that the anti-choice side has zero credibility. Which means that prochoice advocates and groups should never believe anything they say in future. We often give the anti-choice politicians too much credit when they actually deserve none.

  3. 1.) So she says the baby was stillborn. The State says the fetus was alive. What evidence did the State have (as it is the State’s burden of proof) that the baby was born alive, if any? I read, the State used a somewhat antiquated “Lung-float test” that, if that test is credible, showed that the baby was alive when born (b/c the float means air was in the lungs). If the baby was born alive (whether natural miscarriage or purposely induced miscarriage), I question whether there should be legal recourse by the State for such action.

    Is the State really preempted from prosecuting those who purposely induce an abortion with oversees, illegal medications, births a live baby and then discards it (that was the State’s theory)? Whether we believe the State’s theory or the defendant’s, how do we draw a line between protecting women and the State’s justifiable interest in preventing such action?

  4. I think these laws are unfair to women period. And I don’t think the word color is fair, I think it’s tied more into their culture, such as this Indian woman, and her family’s beliefs. I believe if we want to help women it’s fair to explain their culture but if we ever want to get the equality we all deserve we need to ban together. Women still get paid less than men are not treated fairly in many situations, and yet the world is fine with gay marriage, which I supported and voted for. I just find it interesting that gay rights came before women’s rights. I imagine the only reason that happened is because with gay and lesbian couples they got the vote because men supported it too. We need men to support us too.

    When do we as women get equal and fair treatment, period? When will we have people rights? We need to stop dividing ourselves because the old rule of “Divide and Conquer” has gone on too long. We need to “Unite and Uplift” each other. Let’s move past what has been and create what we want by joining forces together. Women are nurturing by nature, and we need to use our strengths and support each other. I wish there was a petition we could sign to help this woman.

  5. How is it possible to comment on the State’s or the Woman’s guilt or innocence without knowing all the facts? The ONLY THING people’s comments show is that those who are PRO-abortion deem the State wrong and those who are ANTI-abortion deem the woman wrong. Neither side has accurate facts as yet, but jump to conclusions. However, I am certain that their conclusions would be the same whether she had a miscarriage or self-interrupted the pregnancy.

    • SunlessNick says:

      Since the state’s approach was essentially to charge her with mutually exclusive crimes (felony neglect needs a live birth to be applicable, while feticide requires a terminated pregnancy) and then claim they meet each other’s burden of proof, you don’t need ANY opinion on abortion to think it acted wrongly.

    • Whether she miscarried or she had an abortion (home done or otherwise) it should not matter. Until the fetus can survive outside the womb it is essentially a parasite and she has the right to get rid of it without fear of being imprisoned or charged for it. If we don’t charge people with animal abuse for returning animals next day or a few months down the road because it was a “mistake”, then we have no right to charge women for getting rid of something they don’t want or physically cannot have. And that’s not even touching on a woman’s right to body autonomy

  6. Elene Gusch says:

    It is possible to state accurately that Purvi Patel could not have BOTH killed a not-yet-born fetus and neglected an already-born child so that it died. That is a logical impossibility. Yet she was convicted of both charges. So we are quite well justified in saying that the state was wrong. This is not jumping to conclusions.

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