Despite All Logic, Indiana Sentenced A Woman To 20 Years In Prison For Both Feticide And Child Neglect
Two months ago, Ashley Andrews reported on the appalling story of Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman who was convicted in February of both feticide and child neglect, despite the fact that it is impossible to be guilty of both at the same time. Now I am forced to write the update I was hoping would not be necessary, because Patel has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
According to NBC, Patel is the first woman in the U.S. to be sentenced for feticide. She was sentenced to 30 years for felony child neglect, and 10 years of that sentence were suspended. She was also sentenced to six years for feticide, which will be served concurrently. This is a tragedy for Patel and should stand as a warning to all women in the U.S. who may become pregnant some day.
“What this conviction means is that anti-abortion laws will be used to punish pregnant woman,” Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told NBC.
In 2013, Patel initially showed up at the emergency room bleeding heavily, and she told doctors there that she had a miscarriage at around 24 weeks pregnant, and that she was in such a state of shock she put the fetus in a dumpster before realizing she needed medical attention.
An investigation ensued, and prosecutors said Monday that Patel’s fetus died within seconds of birth. But police found text messages on Patel’s phone about possibly buying abortion drugs online. Such drugs were not found in Patel’s possession, no traces of any kind of abortifacient drugs were found in her system, and there was no evidence that she actually went through with the purchase, but still prosecutors charged Patel with feticide. That is terrible, but the part where the story becomes genuinely absurd is that prosecutors also charged Patel with child neglect, despite the fact that those charges are completely contradictory. Feticide means the fetus died in utero. Child neglect means neglecting a living child. The charges are mutually exclusive and it should not be possible for a person to be guilty of both, but somehow Patel was charged with both and convicted of both. Now she has been sentenced for both.
Patel is the first woman in the U.S. to be sentenced for feticide, but she is not the first to be charged. In 2011 Indiana charged a Chinese-American woman named Bei Bei Shuai with feticide after she tried to commit suicide while pregnant. Shuai survived, but the fetus did not. Shuai could easily have wound up in Patel’s situation, but her feticide charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.
“Any time a pregnant woman does something that can harm a fetus, now she has to worry, ‘Am I going to be charged with attempted feticide?’” said Dr. David Orentlicher, a former state representative in Indiana, in an interview with PRI. “If you discourage pregnant women from getting prenatal care, you’re not helping fetuses, you’re harming fetuses.”
This is a horrible precedent that should terrify all women in the U.S. It means that prosecutors can criminalize miscarriage. Hell, it means prosecutors could probably charge a woman with attempted feticide for all manner of activities that they don’t consider properly healthful for a fetus (and we all know how people like to police the behaviors of pregnant women). And it means women who are having medical emergencies due to miscarriage or abortion will have a really big reason to avoid medical care, and that seems likely to result in the deaths of women and the fetuses this law is ostensibly designed to protect.