Author’s Note: This post was supposed to be published Friday, April 10. Due to work being a bit hectic, I forgot to schedule it and it’s been sitting in the drafts folder for over a week. Whoops.
As promised, this week’s #FeministFriday is all about Purvi Patel. You may know her as the 33-year-old Indiana woman who was charged with feticide and felony neglect and sentenced to twenty years in prison last month.
Legally charging pregnant persons for the premature end of a pregnancy — regardless of how it occurred — is not a protective measure, but an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.
In July 2013, Patel was admitted to the Emergency Room at St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana. She was bleeding heavily, and told doctors she had a miscarriage, and threw the stillborn fetus into a dumpster. Doctors believe she had been 23-24 weeks pregnant, and that the lungs of the fetus were not developed enough to breathe.
She was arrested shortly thereafter.
During the trial, the prosecution claimed that Patel was between 25 to 30 weeks pregnant, took abortion-inducing drugs in an attempt to terminate the pregnancy, and gave birth to a live baby, which she then abandoned.
A toxicology report failed to find any drugs in Patel’s system, and medical examiners found no evidence that the fetus was alive for more than a few seconds after birth.
Obviously this is a fairly gray moral issue, but regardless of what actually happened, the fallout from this ruling has the potential to be a new revolution against human rights.
If Patel did induce an abortion — a claim there is no evidence to support — it could be argued that she deliberately took a human life in a premeditated fashion. Coincidentally, that’s the legal definition for first-degree murder. I understand this is an argument anti-choice activists like to use, the whole “abortion is murder” bit that you see on those flashy signs milling around in front of Planned Parenthood. Catchy; however, not factually accurate simply because a fetus is not yet an autonomous alive person.
By this “abortion is murder” logic, the door opens to charge a pregnant person who suffers from a miscarriage with manslaughter. Yes, a manslaughter charge usually involves criminally reckless conduct, but if we’re at a point where we’re incarcerating a woman for feticide — which isn’t even a real word — without physical evidence, it seems pretty realistic that a pregnant person accidentally falling down the stairs might have to defend themselves in a court of law.
Actually, it seems incredibly realistic because it almost happened in 2010.
Furthermore, why stop at murder charges for abortions? If someone dying of renal failure finds out I’m a match, but I refuse to donate one of my kidneys — which I’m allowed to do by right of bodily autonomy — am I guilty of murder or felony negligence if they die?
On the other hand, if Patel had a miscarriage, she’s now facing twenty years in prison for a bodily function that was beyond her control. Read that sentence again and tell me that isn’t terrifying. She went to the hospital to seek medical care and support, and instead she received a murder charge from the state of Indiana.
While Patel is the first person to be sentenced under Indiana’s feticide laws, Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese American woman, faced feticide charges in 2011. Shaui was suffering from severe depression and attempted suicide while pregnant. She survived, but the fetus did not, and rather than receiving support and counseling, she was held in prison for a year before the charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.
Deepa Iyer, Activist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program and former director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, says it’s important to note that the only two women charged with feticide are Asian American since women of color often lack access to basic health care, counseling, and other reproductive health resources, as well as the fact that Asian American youth report the strongest amount of stigma around sex and reproductive health of any group.
Additionally, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law’s 2013 study on arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women in the U.S. found that approximately 71% were low-income women and 59% were women of color.
For many pregnant people, the additional fear of arrest could prevent them from seeking critical and necessary physical or mental health care during their pregnancy, or in the event of a miscarriage.
No person should be afraid that life-saving medical care will lead to jail time. Full stop.
So please, tell me again how any of this is pro-life.
Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week.