On March 30, Indiana native Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison after she miscarried her pregnancy.
Convicted in February, Patel was charged with feticide — illegally inducing an abortion — and accused of giving birth to a baby, whom she then neglected, resulting in the infant’s supposed death.
This case has so many weird, uncomfortable and downright shameful aspects about it, especially the fact that all information surrounding whether Patel actually allowed a baby to die or even committed feticide are incredibly vague and unreliable.
However, despite extreme discontinuities in the facts of the trial, Patel has now been sentenced. The next 20 years of her life are gone.
Patel, 33, went to an emergency room in Indiana in July because of a miscarriage. She claimed the fetus had been stillborn, and she had abandoned it, not knowing what else to do.
After police retrieved text messages she exchanged with a friend that discussed the possibility of taking pills to end her pregnancy, Patel was charged with feticide and felony child neglect.
To start, there is much debate over whether Patel’s child was stillborn. During the trial, doctors used arcane tests, such as whether the deceased baby’s lungs were able to float in water, to determine whether the baby might have taken a breath after birth, thus not being stillborn.
Honestly, this seems like a highly unscientific method.
There is debate over whether Patel knew her baby might have been alive and what she could have done in the situation, being medically compromised herself at the time.
Despite these points of contention, there were bigger forces of prejudice playing in Patel’s trial.
Patel’s case, although unusual because of the length of its sentence and the murkiness of the facts surrounding it, is nonetheless an example of how women who have had miscarriages or stillbirths are sometimes unconsciously and shamefully depicted as criminals.
Indiana — a state making waves in the news lately for unsavory law-making decisions — is now the first state to have a state-level feticide law that was used to successfully prosecute a woman for trying to have self-induced abortion, although there have been other instances in the U.S. of women being charged with other crimes after taking abortion pills while not on prescription.
This case is disturbing to any woman who views herself as an individual with bodily autonomy and a value outside of a baby incubator.