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!
Photo courtesy of Juan Castillas via Creative Commons 2.0.