On Monday, March 30, Purvi Patel, a woman living in Indiana, became the first person in the United States to be convicted and sentenced for feticide, the abortion of a fetus, and child neglect; making reproductive rights activists are furious. Supposedly, Patel attempted to induce her own abortion by purchasing pills online because she had an affair with a coworker and she feared her conservative Hindu relatives would find out what happened. After all, sex outside of marriage is taboo in her family. Nevertheless, the court accused her of giving birth to a live baby and then abandoning the child, leaving it to die, despite lacking any tangible evidence.
On the other hand, Patel claims that she had miscarried and given birth to a stillborn fetus, upon which she panicked, placed the fetus in a dumpster, and then rushed herself to the hospital. Interestingly, no trace of medication was found in her system and the police did not find any evidence of such a purchase. The only evidence regarding the abortion pills is a few texts Patel had sent to a friend.
The fetus became the main source of conflict. Because of the random and unjustified suspicion that the fetus had not been miscarried, Patel was charged for feticide/child neglect and sentenced to prison for seventy years. One pathologist even used an ancient and discredited test known as the lung float test in attempt to prove that the fetus had air in its lungs, and was thus alive after birth.
This pathologist then went on to use this test to testify in court, saying that the fetus’ lungs did float and that Patel could have saved it, even though this test cannot be trusted. Still, his argument swayed the jury. After such evidence was given, the observers lost sympathy for Patel and claimed that she appeared unaffected about the pregnancy coming to an end.
“Purvi Patel’s conviction amounts to punishment for having a miscarriage and then seeking medical care, something that no woman should worry would lead to jail time,” reported Deepa Lyer, Activist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program. She also said to NBC News that “Immigrant women of color . . . remain vulnerable to the exploitation of laws like these in a myriad of ways.”
This is not the first time that the state of Indiana has charged for feticide. In 2011, Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese-American woman, reportedly was suffering from depression and attempted to commit suicide. Shuai was pregnant at the time that she tried to kill herself; she survived, but her baby did not. Instead of receiving the support that she so desperately needed, she was charged with murder. She was held in prison for a year before the charges were finally dropped.
The lung float test, even though it was disproved over 100 years ago, is still often used to convict women as well. In 2006, a medical examiner used this test to prove that a mother had suffocated her child. The woman was in jail for nine months before forensics experts came to her rescue. They showed that the fetus had suffered from pneumonia and was also stillborn. “It’s an absolutely discredited test,” Gregory Davis, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky, reported to Slate. “It boggles my mind that in the 21st century . . . this test is still being relied upon to determine whether a baby is born alive or dead.”
Although reproductive rights have improved greatly over the years, anti-abortion laws continue to create all kinds of anxiety for women. “Any time a pregnant woman does something that can harm a fetus, now she has to worry, ‘Am I going to be charged with attempted feticide?’” said Dr. David Orentlicher, a former state representative in Indiana. “If you discourage pregnant women from getting prenatal care, you’re not helping fetuses, you’re harming fetuses.”
By: Lydia Bashor, News Writer