Woman Sentenced to 20 Years for Having an Abortion Appeals Her Ruling

Purvi Patel, the Indiana woman currently serving 20 years for having an illegal abortion, finally had the opportunity to appeal her case in front of the Indiana State Court of Appeals on Monday. Patel is the first woman in the U.S. to be convicted for having an illegal abortion and, if her conviction is upheld, it could present a tremendous uphill battle for reproductive justice advocates.

We’ve covered Purvi Patel’s story several times, and with every post the news seems to get worse. Despite her conflicting charges — one for delivering a live fetus and abandoning it, and another for intentionally terminating her pregnancy — Patel was found guilty in March of 2015 and is currently serving 20 years behind bars.

On Monday, Patel’s case was finally heard before the Indiana State Court of Appeals. As with many legal proceedings, the court may not reach a ruling for several months, and Patel remains incarcerated while we all wait to hear if her case will be overturned: In addition to Patel’s freedom being on the line, this ruling in particular has the potential to create a precedent that could set the reproductive justice movement back decades.

Half of the state’s case revolves around Patel’s intention to terminate her pregnancy, claiming that Patel’s abortion amounts to feticide. Many pro-choice activists, reproductive justice advocates, and Patel’s own lawyers have argued that the feticide statute in question was intended to protect pregnant women from external acts of violence — abusers, attackers, and others. In this case, however, the State is attempting to use the feticide statute — a law that other states already have in place or are currently considering — to ultimately criminalize women themselves for having an abortion. Plus, under this usage of the feticide statute, you could essentially charge pregnant women for any and every act deemed harmful to the fetus in instances where a pregnancy wasn’t successfully carried to term. Attorney Katherine Jack, who defended another woman charged with feticide in 2011, argues this very issue to The Guardian, explaining that upholding Patel’s conviction could lead to “a precedent that anything a pregnant woman does that could be interpreted as an attempt to terminate her pregnancy could result in criminal liability.”

With so many politicians so bent on peeling back layers of progress in regard to women’s rights, this newest attempt to criminalize choice and autonomy comes at no surprise. Anti-choice advocates, politicians and lobbyists have been ramping up their efforts especially in the last few years. According to MSNBC, between 2001 and 2010, 189 new laws were enacted to restrict abortion access. Between 2011 and 2013? A whopping 205. That’s 205 laws in roughly three years. And with clinics still rapidly under attacked by legislatures — prompting the closures of clinics all over the country — it’s safe to say the campaign against women’s rights and bodily autonomy is going full speed ahead.

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Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work is focused on historical and contemporary iterations of black, brown and indigenous resistance. She is also a Callaloo Fellow, and author of "When the Ghosts Come Ashore," published through Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press.

Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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