Conflict & Justice

Purvi Patel faces 20 years in prison for feticide and child neglect

This story is a part of a series

Body Politics: The struggle for access to reproductive rights
Updated:

This story is a part of a series

Body Politics: The struggle for access to reproductive rights

Purvi Patel.jpg

Purvi Patel was sentenced March 30, 2015 for feticide and child neglect.

Credit:

St. Joseph's County, Indiana, Police Dept.

Following her conviction last month, an Indiana judge has sentenced 33-year-old Purvi Patel to what effectively amounts to 20 years (of a possible 70) in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent.

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Patel comes from a family of Indian immigrants who settled in Granger, Indiana, a suburb of South Bend. In July 2013, she showed up at the emergency room of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in the town of Mishawaka, bleeding heavily. Doctors quickly realized she’d lost a pregnancy, and she confessed that she’d left the fetus in a dumpster. Patel became a criminal suspect and was later interrogated in the hospital after receiving surgery to remove her placenta.

Patel’s defense argued that Patel, who’d gotten no prenatal care, had had a sudden miscarriage and that the fetus was not born alive. Much of Patel’s trial centered on the alleged gestational age of the fetus: Patel's defense argued the fetus was no more than 22-24 weeks old, and thus not viable even in a medical setting. Prosecutors argued Patel’s pregnancy was up to 30 weeks along and the baby had been born alive. Prosecutors did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

In addition to the charge of neglect, prosecutors later added a charge of “feticide” based on text messages found on Patel’s phone showing that she took miscarriage-inducing drugs purchased online. Toxicologists could not find any trace of such drugs in her body or that of the fetus, but the evidence was enough to convince a jury that Patel had committed feticide, a charge normally used against those who harm pregnant women, not pregnant women themselves.

Patel is the first woman convicted of feticide in Indiana, and only the second to be charged. Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai faced feticide charges two years ago in the state, and both cases highlight an emerging “gray area” for pregnant women within the US legal system.

There are also concerns Patel may be a victim of wider political dynamics in Indiana. The judge in Patel’s case, Elizabeth Hurley, was the first superior court appointee by Indiana’s conservative governor, Mike Pence. Judge Hurley allowed the jury to view a video of police interrogating Patel in post-operative recovery, despite defense arguments that Patel’s Miranda rights were ignored and she was recovering from sedation and severe blood loss during the questioning.

At the sentencing on Monday, local supporters of Patel wore purple and white and were joined by members of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and Apna Ghar, a Chicago-based group advocating for Southeast Asian women’s rights. Patel’s defense is expected to file an appeal.

Previously: How can Indiana jail a woman for decades for a stillbirth?