When the alternative was a 20 year prison sentence, it almost feels like a victory to have Indiana woman Purvi Patel’s likely prison time reduced by half. While it may be a success for Patel, the decision is by no means a victory for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy — and it definitely does not resemble justice.
Patel, who was accused and convicted of both feticide and felony neglect of a minor after giving birth to what doctors claim was a live fetus and disposing of the body in a dumpster, will now have the feticide conviction thrown out and the neglect charge reduced.
Molly Redden at The Guardian reports:
In a 42-page ruling, by Judge Terry A Crone, the court reduced the child neglect charge by an order of magnitude, and it reproached prosecutors for charging Patel under the state’s 2009 feticide law, saying there was no evidence that lawmakers intended the law to punish pregnant women. Indiana passed the measure in 2009 after a pregnant woman was shot and lost the twins she was carrying. ‘Given that the legislature decriminalized abortion with respect to pregnant women only two years before it enacted the feticide statute, we conclude that the legislature never intended the feticide statute to apply to pregnant women,’ the decision declared. ‘Therefore, we vacate Patel’s feticide conviction.’
Of course, feticide was never, ever intended to be applied to the pregnant woman herself, even if Patel had actually miscarried due to the medication she ingested and not simply miscarried naturally on her own.
But Indiana has a history of applying unreasonable charges to pregnant women in order to jail them for harm they may have caused to their pregnancies. After all, it was only a few years earlier that Bei Bei Shuia spent years in jail for murder. Her baby girl died shortly after being born a few weeks early following Shuai’s suicide attempt with rat poison.
Shuai, too, eventually had a reduced sentence. Much like Patel, the important part of charging these women was to set test cases to legally present a fetus as an entity with legal rights.
Both in Shuai’s case and now in Patel’s, where even the reduced “neglect of a dependent” allows a setup for “personhood” of a fetus still in the womb, the attempts to undermine legal abortion are obvious and intentional.
It’s a deliberate move that did not go unnoticed by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a legal group who filed amicus briefs both for Patel and Shuai. Lynn M. Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, via press release stated:
By overturning the feticide conviction and holding that it may not be misused to punish women who have abortions, the court reached a decision that respects the Indiana Legislature’s clear intent, is consistent with decisions from sister states, and is in accord with widely held public opinion that women who have or who attempt to have abortions should not be put behind bars.
Meanwhile, NAPW Staff Attorney Lisa Sangoi added, “we are very concerned that any neglect charge was upheld, given the lack of actual evidence of a live birth or that Patel could have, but failed to, obtain medical care immediately following the delivery.”
The lesson that can be taken from the court’s decision to strike the feticide charge but leave the neglect charge appears to be a simple one: Indiana will continue to pursue ways to punish and jail those who may possibly have induced their own abortion. The state just needs to decide exactly which charge will be the most successful.