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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