Purvi Patel Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Death of Her Fetus

A court sketch of Purvi Patel, who was sentenced today after a court found her guilty of feticide and child neglect in the death of her fetus.
A court sketch of Purvi Patel, who was sentenced today after a court found her guilty of feticide and child neglect in the death of her fetus.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the story of Purvi Patel, the Indian American woman who faced feticide and child neglect charges in the loss of her late-term fetus. Patel was convicted in February of these charges when her fetus which was found dead in a dumpster after Patel went to the hospital suffering from a hemorrhage. The State argued that Patel took illegal drugs purchased overseas to induce an abortion, and that the abortion was only partially successful, leading to a live birth of the fetus which subsequently died.

However, no evidence that Patel ever purchased those drugs was ever uncovered. No trace amounts of drugs were found in the blood of either Patel or her fetus. The autopsy of the fetus relied upon an archaic test to conclude a live birth — a test that has been discredited in most of the medical and forensic profession.

Consistent with this evidence, Patel maintained that she hid her pregnancy due to cultural stigmas against pre-marital sex, and to protect the identity of the fetus’ father — a married co-worker. Patel maintained that although she contemplated purchasing abortion-inducing drugs, she never went ahead with the idea. Finally, Patel maintained that her fetus was lost by stillbirth, which occurs in 1 out of 160 pregnancies.

None of this mattered to the Indiana jury hearing the case against Patel. In February, a jury convicted Patel of the paradoxical charges of both feticide (the intentional death of a fetus) and child neglect (actions that lead to the death of an infant born alive).

Today, 33-year-old Purvi Patel was sentenced to 30 years in prison for child neglect, with 10 years suspended, and with an additional 6 years for feticide to be served concurrently; in total, Patel will serve 20 years in prison for what she continues to contend was the miscarriage death of her fetus.

Indiana passed its feticide law in 2012. Patel is only the second Indiana woman to face charges under this new State law; the woman before her was Bei Bei Shuai — also an Asian American immigrant woman — who was charged with feticide after a failed suicide attempt lead to the poisoning death of her fetus. In Mississippi, another woman of colour Rennie Gibbs, was convicted of feticide in the death of her fetus in 2006, which the State argued was related to her crack addiction.

In my post earlier this month, I asked how justice could look like laws passed that seem to weigh the life of an unborn fetus greater than the life of the woman carrying it; and how could justice look like those same laws being apparently used to disproportionately criminalize immigrant women and women of colour.

I continue to seek an answer to these questions.

The right of women to dictate their own reproductive health was clearly established in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade decision. Today, most Americans continue to support women’s right to choice. Yet, the Right’s expansive war on women and our reproductive freedom has clearly identified its first target: impoverished (oftentimes, immigrant) women of colour — those with the least power among us; those few care about; those most vulnerable to legal exploitation; those whose rights we acknowledge but are apathetic to defend.

My fellow mainstream feminists, how we can we continue to let this stand? How much longer will we allow disadvantaged women of colour to bear the brunt of the Right’s anti-feminist uprising, while we fail to acknowledge those deeply racialized tactics? How much longer will we continue to deny that this is not just a War on Women, but a War on Women of Colour?

As for the Asian American community, how much longer will we deprioritize feminism in our advocacy? On April 26, thousands of Chinese Americans are scheduled to engage in nationwide marches to defend the assertion that Asian Americans should share the same privilege of White police officers to shoot unarmed Black men with impunity; all this on the grounds that Asian Americans should not be criminalized disproportionate to Whites. Yet, how many of these Asian Americans have mobilized for Purvi Patel, or for Bei Bei Shuai before her?

Purvi Patel is the first woman in Indiana to be convicted and sentenced under the State’s new laws elevating fetal life over that of its mother. She will not be the last. Will we be surprised if the next is also a woman of colour?

Act Now! RH Reality Check — a reputable reproductive health organization and advocacy group — has partnered with Apna Ghar, an immigrant advocacy group dedicated to ending gender violance,  to set up a fund to receive donations to support Patel’s working class immigrant family; prior to her arrest, Patel was the primary breadwinner for her family. If you have some extra funds, please donate to the Patel family. (broken link) Please also sign the petition, and share the fundraising link and this post with your entire network.

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  • Myra Esoteric

    Thanks for your insight.

  • Myra Esoteric

    facepalm

  • mambocat

    Thank you for accepting my clarification. I was responding to someone who was skeptical that a grown woman who was born in America would somehow, magically, simply by being born in the USA, have a full sense of independence and the psychological ability and financial ability to avail herself of birth control options or an abortion, access to which most culturally immersed American teenagers and adult women have. If she was raised in a highly controlling family with patriarchal and controlling ” values,” well, there is no age limit on misogyny or sex-shaming. In my family it took two generations to be culturally assimilated… I was the first young woman among my same age cousins in one branch of my family to not live with parents until marriage — a few cousins from that branch of the family tree stayed in dorms during college, but were manipulated into moving back in with parents after graduation and until marriage, even though they were legal adults and could do as they pleased, they did not BELIEVE that they could due to lifelong parental brainwashing and woman- shaming.

  • MaiaDoe

    “I’m afraid to grow my family because it could me put in prison for 20 years for having a miscarriage.”

    And at some point, we get in situation “I am pregnant, I need to fly to Canada for an early abortion, because WHAT IF I miscarry later, I would end up in prison”.
    Already happening in El Salvador, abortion is actually (legally speaking) safer than carrying to term, because it usually
    1) happens quite early
    2) is planned with cover-up story and doctors who are going to cooperate

    Compare it to unexpected bleeding in sixth month!

  • MaiaDoe

    “but she was a 31 year old woman that was born IN America, not an immigrant”

    IDK how it’s in America, but in the EU we had (multiple) cases of honor killing, and the victims were sometimes born in France / Germany / UK / etc.; just living in the country and being born there does not erase some of these problems, so the idea “was scared of her parents” is really not that crazy; there are grown women hiding under false identities because their parents might kill them if they find them.

    I don’t defend such disrespect for the fetal remains (and also there are hygienic reasons for not doing this), however, the sentence is just crazy. She should be fined for that, maybe overnight in jail, and that’s it. Speeding is far worse crime than throwing a fetus in a dumpster.

  • Myra Esoteric

    I don’t think it is always about being a “grown adult” or fear. I do not think that the idea that having a kid out of wedlock is bad, is patriarchal.

    For me it’s about my own values which are a bit different from Western values. I’m East Asian and raised atheist, not even South Asian.

  • Sandi Hornsby White

    I am not insisting that she is Native American. My comment was it is to that she is not because should could claim Sovereign Right’s and Law. The outcome would be much different. All American’s can claim their own Sovereignty and stand on the USA Constitution…..if you know how. This Women-Mother has been severely sentenced.

  • mambocat

    Some commenters confused the statistics with stillbirth (a full term fetus born dead due to complications or injury) with miscarriage, also known as “spontaneous natural abortion” (FAR more common, in fact, about 30% of very early pregnancies miscarry JUST in the FIRST month), resulting in nothing but a heavy, clotted menstrual period — mother does not know she was pregnant), with yet another fairly large number of miscarriages occurring In the FIRST trimester.

  • mambocat

    You replied somewhere that you have no choice if you get pregnant outside of marriage. IF you live in the US, you DO have the legal choice to be on hormonal birth control, use the morning – after pill, or have a safe and legal abortion if you do not wish to become a parent right now. If your personal beliefs forbid you from having an abortion, that IS your choice, and I respect it. That’s why pro – choice voters are pro- CHOICE. If you, for personal ethics, choose to go through with bringing the pregnancy to term, you CHOSE to believe that, which is fine. Your beliefs allow you no other choice. The law does.

    But an American citizen who chooses not to have an abortion is vastly different from a citizen, a grown but unmarried woman, who is so terrorized by atavistic family tradition and cultural mores that she HIDES a pregnancy FROM HER parents. Countless sects of various religions still oppress women with sex shaming. And a woman brainwashed from birth that an extramarital pregnancy is shameful may be literally in fear of her life by controlling and abusive parents. You own choices, values and experiences are not common to everyone.

  • SunlessNick

    The legal system has convicted her of two mutually exclusive crimes. That the law has treated her unfairly is not bias, or irrationality, it’s the only feasible conclusion.

  • Matthew T. Walsh

    You have a failure in your logic. There are far more conclusions available than the two you have suggested. The jury may have more evidence available than has been presented here. The statute may not allow the judge as much latitude in sentencing. The defense may not have presented a strong case in the court room. The defendant’s previous dishonest actions may have swayed the jury to not believing her testimony in her own defense. She may actually be guilty of the crime.

    None of these possibilities require the law to be unfair.

    Please provide evidence of the law being unfair. It is clearly not the only feasible option.

  • Myra Esoteric

    Decision making at a family, not individual locus is not “abuse” or “control”. It is a cultural difference (anthropologically). Having an illegitimate child is not an option in my family and this applies whether I’m 14 or 40.

  • None of these other possibilities preclude the conclusion that the legal system failed to find justice in this case. Regardless, feticide is defined by the law as causing injury to a woman severe enough to induce death of her fetus in utero, and when passed was argued as a legal protection for victims of domestic abuse. Child neglect is defined as actions that cause injury or death to a child, which is why the prosecution set out to show with the faulty lung float test that the fetus was born alive. Common sense dictates that these are mutually exclusive crimes, which doesn’t exclude the possibility that Patel, for example, received a bad defense effort.

    You keep insisting that we assume Patel might have been guilty of one or both of these crimes. Yet, you (like the prosecution) haven’t provided any compelling evidence to support a presumption of guilt. Absent that, I think that the sole person who might rightfully by accused of bias here really might be the one doing all the accusing of others of such prejudice.

    I don’t think anyone here is closed to the idea that a woman might deliberately harm her fetus. I think there are people here who think the State failed to provide sufficient evidence that Patel did, and that her conviction is therefore a miscarriage of justice. To argue otherwise simply because you dislike some aspect of Patel or her behavior before or after the loss of her fetus — for example that she tried to hide evidence of her pregnancy, which while not something we might see as moral is not evidence that she killed her fetus — is personal prejudice, not reason.

  • mambocat

    Indeed we are .

  • Matthew T. Walsh

    Jenn,

    I am not obligated to provide evidence she is guilty. She was convicted in a court by a jury of her peers. You and your supporters have made the claim it was unjust and unfair. As we are discussing a court case, and you being an expert on law, you will be familiar with the fact that the side presenting the claim must bring the evidence. That leaves the evidence requirement firmly in your court.

    All I have pointed out is that while you are so angrily attacking the court and anyone who doesn’t fully support your beliefs you are missing the fact that you might be wrong. You have insisted so vehemently that Patel is innocent you can’t even be bothered to consider if your position is flawed.

    You don’t personally believe the state provided sufficient evidence. Ok. That’s worth nothing. It’s an opinion. It has no value in determining the facts of the case or Ms Patel’s guilt. It was sufficient for the jury that convicted her. Bring evidence or go home.

    Attempting to accuse me of having personal prejudice is nothing more than a red herring. If you want to ignore facts in the case that’s fine, but you don’t get to be mad at me for bringing them up.

  • mambocat

    In the US, one can obtain an abortion without any piece of paper coming to your home, as, due to our twisted politics, most insurance companies do not cover an abortion. You pay cash at the abortion provider for privacy. Insurance information about your birth control prescriptions may or may not be sent to your home, depending on your insurance company practices.

    As for abuse and control, some families, within the same culture, sit down together and make a loving and rational decision about an unexpected pregnancy, while other families threaten daughters with ostracism, beatings or even death for “shaming” the family. Brutal families exist in EVERY culture. However, whether a pregnancy is terminated, continued to term, kept in the family, adopted to another family, or hidden, given birth in secret and abandoned because the mother is in a state of FEAR, that is neither a cultural difference nor a choice — THAT is terrorism against women, regardless of the nation in which it occurs. Families vary both within individual cultures and between different cultures. But if a woman in any culture makes a pregnancy decision based on FEAR — fear imposed on her by individual, controlling parents or a lover– yes, that IS abuse and control.

    My cousin who I mentioned in another post, daughter of German Catholic immigrants, was NOT beaten almost to death due to a “decision made as a family,” and such things happen in every nation, ethnicity and religion. Particularly when the family holds the archaic belief that an out of wedlock pregnancy brings “shame.”

    I am glad we can have this conversation. If injustices like what happened to Purvi are to be stopped, women especially have to find a way to work together both to support one another and to work for rational laws and compassionate families.

  • Myra Esoteric

    I was talking about medical billing requirements, not insurance requirements. Having used catastrophic forms of health insurance my entire life, even paying cash requires some form of identifying address where information will be sent. Not due to law but due to “policy”.

    In most countries people can pick up a birth control pill at the store without a prescription and in some countries a pill with the abortion ingredient is available the same way.

  • SunlessNick

    Two MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE crimes. One requiring the death of a foetus, one requiring a live birth. By definition, she cannot be guilty of both, and yet she has been convicted of both. So no, the legal system having treated her unfairly is not the extraordinary claim here, and the burden of the extraordinary evidence is on you.

  • Matthew T. Walsh

    Nick, I’m not sure you understand how logical arguments are constructed and defended. I’ve made no claims and cannot be required to provide evidence at all. Only persons making truth claims are required to provide evidence. I’m simply asking questions. “What if you are wrong about your assumption?” If you have a solid argument you can provide sufficient evidence to support your claim of an unfair law or improper application of a legal statute.

    My whole point has been that this article and Jenn are skewed, ignoring arguments from the prosecution and facts from the case that don’t ft into the idea that this was some kind of conspiracy against women and pro-choice supporters. I’ve tried to point out some of those things and the response has been quite telling.

    Finally I’m curious of your choice of words. As far as I can see, no one called any claims “extraordinary.” You’ve attempted to take my skepticism of the article as a hard position making it a straw-man argument. You’ve then added the label extraordinary as though my position is somehow suggesting supernatural status as an attempt to shift the attention of the arguement before trying to shift the burden of proof to me for a supernatural claim I haven’t made. I believe that’s three logical fallacies in one statement.

  • SunlessNick

    “If you have a solid argument you can provide sufficient evidence to support your claim of an unfair law or improper application of a legal statute.”

    She has been convicted of two *mutually exclusive* crimes. Two crimes where she cannot, *by their definitions,* be guilty of both. Explain to me what possible chain of logic can make this fair.

  • Matthew T. Walsh

    Jenn, you may want to see the actual statute regarding feticide. It is worded a bit differently than your interpretation. From the Indiana law:

    Ind. Code § 35-42-1-6 : Indiana Code – Section 35-42-1-6:
    A person who knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus commits feticide, a Class B felony. This section does not apply to an abortion performed in compliance with:
    (1) IC 16-34; or
    (2) IC 35-1-58.5 (before its repeal).
    As added by Acts 1979, P.L.153, SEC.3. Amended by P.L.2-1995, SEC.126; P.L.40-2009, SEC.1.

    It seems to me one could be guilty of both crimes. The wording here is important since the intention is called into question. If the intention is not to produce a live birth, but the fetus is viable, both this statute and the statute for child neglect can be applied. There is nothing in this statute that implies the product of the aborted pregnancy must be dead, nor does it indicate it must be from outside physical abuse.

  • Matthew T. Walsh

    OK Nick, I’ll humor you. Provide the legal definitions of both crimes. Include the statutes she was charged under and show how they are mutually exclusive.

  • SunlessNick

    That’s already been provided in the countless articles written about the case. Feticide is killing a foetus outside of a legal abortion, as you might surmise from the name. As such, it can only occur if the foetus dies – ie, there is no live birth. Child neglect is something you can only do to a live-born child – ie, it requires there to have been a live birth. It’s not complicated.

  • Matthew T. Walsh

    Clearly you’ve not read the statutes. If you bothered to put in five minutes of effort to support your claims you would see that the feticide statute does not require the fetus to die in utero. The statute only requires that the intention be to end a pregnancy. The child could still be born alive, as a result of the abortion. Leaving the child in a dumpster would then constitute neglect.

    Don’t take my word for it read the statute yourself.
    It’s Indiana Code – Section 35-42-1-6

  • SunlessNick

    Well, I looked up your reference, and got “A person who knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy” – so outside the kind of weaselwording that to me would not qualify as fair use of the law, then yes, it requires a terminated pregnancy, not a live birth. Where do you want to move the goalposts now?

    If they’d charged her with attempted feticide, you might have a point, but they didn’t. But I’m done with your endless what-iffing, I think.