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

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Marco Werman: We have a story now from Indiana, and it’s not about that so-called freedom of religion bill that sparked so much controversy. No, this is an update on a story we told you about earlier this month. It’s the one about Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman from South Bend, Indiana. We’ve been following her story as part of our project, Across Women’s Lives. A quick reminder: two years ago, Purvi Patel found herself pregnant. She got no prenatal care and showed up one night in a local emergency room. She was bleeding profusely and, at first, didn’t tell anyone that she had been pregnant. Soon after though, she confessed that she had left the fetus in a dumpster. Beyond that, a lot is in dispute. Last month, a jury found Patel guilty of two charges--child neglect and feticide. Today, the judge in the case sentenced her to 30 years in prison, though she’ll likely serve only 20. Reporter Amy Gastelum has been following this story for us. So first of all Amy, explain, if you would, the sentence that Ms. Patel received.


Amy Gastelum: She will likely serve those 20 years and then won’t serve the additional 10 years unless she does something wrong while she’s in prison or does something to violate her parole. She was also sentenced to six years for the feticide charge, but those six years will be served at the same time that she’s serving the 20 years.


Werman: So it almost seems like the sentences were kind of being a little gentle on her.


Gastelum: Well, the thing is she doesn’t have any prior prosecutions. This is her first offense. So, it’s really common to give suspened years if it’s a person’s first offense.


Werman: On the medical side of things and on just the gender side of things, what are the big concerns with the sentence?


Gastelum: Well, this is a big deal because it sets legal precedence in Indiana. So, any time somebody is charged or convicted in a new way, that case can be used to validate charges and convictions of someone in the future in the same way, so there’s a lot of parties concerned here. Medical groups? Certainly. Also reproductive rights groups, because this is new territory.


Werman: And just what is so new about this?


Gastelum: Feticide in Indiana has never been used against a woman in this way, and that means any prosecutor who now wants to use feticide against a woman for outcomes of her own pregnancy can do that. One of the advocates who went to her sentencing today is an IU South Bend student, Andi Trowbridge, and she says that she went because she is concerned that women now will see this and they’ll say “Oh my gosh, I could be put in jail if something bad happens to my fetus. Maybe I won’t go get prenatal care,” or “Maybe I won’t go seek help during my pregnancy,” and that’s what these medical associations are also worried about.


Werman: Now,  Purvi Patel apparently plans to appeal the sentence. What basis is she going to use?


Gastelum: Ms. Patel may have a few options for how she wants to appeal. Certainly there have been medical experts who came out of the woodwork--when the states pathologist put her fetuses lungs in water to determine whether it had taken a breath--that is not something that is medically used anymore to determine life and breath. The other thing is when Purvi Patel was recovering from surgery, an officer came to interrogate her and didn’t read her her miranda rights, didn’t allow her family to see her, and her defense argued that that should have been considered an actual interrogation, in which case she would have had to have been read her miranda rights. She was not.


Werman: You know, Amy, This story of Purvi Patel did not seem to be connected to Indiana’s freedom of religion bill when I first started talking to you a few minutes ago, but the judge in this case was appointed by Governor Mike Pence, who’s behind the religious freedom bill, and this case dips into reproductive rights, hence religion. So I’m just wondering, what is the connection here? Is this a conservative issue?


Gastelum: I think this is a definitely conservative issue. There are some people who support this new bill that say that it does protect private businesses’ rights to control their employee’s reproductive rights, but also I’d like to point out that Judge Elizabeth Hurley, the judge in this case, is the very first superior court appointee by Mike Pence, and her role in this whole case is very significant. She got to control the kind of information the jury was exposed to during the trial and then she got to ultimately choose what the punishment would be for Purvi Patel. So, she plays a huge role in this.


Werman: Reporter and registered nurse Amy Gastelum. Thank you very much for the update.


Gastelum: Thank you.