miscarriage of justice

Indiana woman found guilty of feticide and neglect for having a miscarriage

Yesterday a jury convicted Purvi Patel, the Indiana woman arrested after miscarrying and seeking help at the ER, after five hours of deliberation. She faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison. 

Patel was found guilty of two mutually contradictory charges — feticide and felony neglect of a dependent. The former charge only holds if Patel intentionally terminated her pregnancy causing a miscarriage or stillbirth, while the latter only holds if she delivered a live, viable fetus. As Jessica Mason Pieklo explains, in order to try to cover both bases, prosecutors argued that Patel took abortion drugs that text messages indicated she’d ordered online “to induce a miscarriage but that instead of miscarrying, Patel delivered a live fetus that she abandoned.”

During the trial, the prosecution was unable to prove that Patel took abortion pills — the state’s own toxicologist admitted that he found no evidence of abortifacients in her body. And the only evidence that the fetus had been born alive — let alone was developed enough to actually be viable outside the uterus — was weak. But the jury still convicted on both counts.

If Patel did indeed take the pills to self-induce an abortion, it’s likely because Indiana has made getting a legal abortion very difficult. There are only 12 abortion providers in the entire state, only four cities in Indiana have abortion clinics, and women must submit to counseling, an 18-hour waiting period, and two separate visits to obtain an abortion,” RH Reality Check notes. With one hand, the state cuts access to legal abortion; with the other, it criminalizes those who are, consequently, forced to take desperate measures on their own.

Of course, the fact that we — and the state of Indiana — truly has no idea if Patel took the pills underscores how dangerous this sort of application of feticide laws is for all pregnant people. Holding people accountable for the outcomes of their pregnancies means, in effect, giving “personhood” rights to fetuses — and means that every miscarriage must be treated as a potential crime. As Robin Marty tweeted, Patel’s trial “shows that if you miscarry and are ambivalent about your pregnancy, your choices are bleed out or risk jail.” Not exactly the best message to send if you actually care about the health of women and fetuses.

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St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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