A few years after Indiana tried to charge Bei Bei Shuai with feticide after she attempted suicide, the state is now going after another woman for the crime.
Purvi Patel went to the ER with vaginal bleeding after delivering a fetus at home. Initially, prosecutors charged Patel with “felony neglect,” claiming the fetus was born alive and then subsequently died. But now they’ve decided to add a charge for “feticide” – that way, if the fetus was stillborn, as Patel claims, they’ll still hold her accountable since she admitted to taking drugs to try to self-abort. As Sally Kohn writes at the Daily Beast, the two charges directly contradict each other.
The State of Indiana intends to convict and incarcerate Purvi Patel one way or another, whether the fetus she delivered was alive or not—never mind the fact that the facts necessary for filing the one charge (that the fetus have been alive) entirely contradict the facts necessary for filing the other (that the fetus have been dead) and vice versa. But the utter illogic of the legal prosecution simply echoes the illogic of Indiana’s law and others like them—which not only unconscionably (and arguably unconstitutionally) restrict a woman’s right to abortion but tread dangerously close to criminalizing pregnancy as a whole.
If you do your job as a woman and give perfect birth to a perfect baby, you’re safe. But God forbid anything go wrong, that you have any complications either due to your own actions or actions that could be attributed to you, that you as a woman fail in your duty as a vessel for the fetus—the rights of which the State of Indiana is clearly more invested in than your own. What then?
The dual, contradictory charges really do show how feticide laws — which were never, ever intended to be used against pregnant people to begin with — are being used to criminalize pregnancy from start to finish, especially for women of color. As Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women says, “Once again targeting a woman of color, prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes. In the US, as a matter of constitutional law and human decency, no woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy.”
Patel went to the hospital seeking medical treatment. Now she faces up to 20 years in prison for feticide, or up to 50 years in prison for neglect. How many other Indiana women will look at this outcome and decide not to risk getting the care they — and their fetuses — may need?
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.