Indiana Slaps Woman Who Gave Birth Prematurely with Feticide Charge

Despite requests to strike it down, a northern Indiana judge has allowed a feticide charge to stand against Purvi Patel, a woman who had taken measures to abort her fetus and underwent a premature delivery.

Patel, 33, had previously been charged with a Class A felony neglect in the death of an infant after, having given birth to what she believed was a stillborn and subsequently seeking hospital treatment, the body of a 28-week-old fetus was found. Via IndyStar:

The infant's body was found outside a Mishawaka restaurant in July 2013 after Patel went to a hospital, police have said. Court documents say Patel told doctors the baby was stillborn, but a forensic pathologist ruled the infant was born alive and took a breath. Documents also allege Patel took drugs ordered from Hong Kong to try to abort the pregnancy.

Apparently, according to an ER doctor's affidavit, "one of the two drugs Patel took would not have had any effect." Either way, Patel could only be convicted of neglect if it was proven that the baby was alive at birth. But last week, prosecutors tacked on the Class B felony charge of feticide, which Indiana law defines as "knowingly or intentionally terminating a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus."

Advertisement

So wait. If they can't prove that she gave birth to the baby alive and "caused" its death by neglect, then they will just get her for feticide, despite the fact that each charge negates the possibility of the other. Wow, they really have their bases covered, and Patel will be punished for either giving birth to a stillborn or not wanting to have a child. One way or another, they will take her down.

Chief Deputy prosecutor Mark Roule himself explained that the state had planned to file the charge if the case went to trial even though the two separate charges of neglect and feticide stem from the same facts, admitting that there is nothing in these facts that specifically suggest feticide. Patel's defense attorney Jeff Sanford asked to strike the additional charge as he did not have time to prepare a defense for the trial on September 29, stating "They are different medical issues."

But St. Joseph Superior Court Elizabeth Hurley has allowed the charge to stand, instead opting to allow Sanford more time to prepare. If charged with feticide, Patel faces a sentence anywhere between 6-20 years. If charged with neglect, 20-50 years.

Given Indiana's stringent and suffocating anti-abortion views and all-too broad definition of "fetal harm," this is not surprising, though still entirely disturbing. Keep in mind that Indiana has some of the harshest restrictions on abortion in the country, from state-mandated counseling to the 18-hour waiting period, to forced ultrasounds. Health plans in Indiana's ACA marketplace and public funding will only cover abortions in the case of threat to the mother's life, rape, or incest. The fact that a premature baby did not survive and the mother had previously taken measures to induce abortion is more than enough ammo for the state to prosecute the mother without restraint.

But Indiana isn't the only place where states are punishing pregnant women. In 2010, Christine Taylor was arrested in Iowa for having fallen down a staircase while pregnant and admitting to a nurse that at one point she had thought about an abortion. Two years ago, Bei Bei Shuai was charged in Indiana with feticide after her pregnancy was terminated as a result of a suicide attempt. As Sally Kohn at The Daily Beast points out, the fact that both women who have faced feticide charges in Indiana are women of color is a further indication that women's health is an economic and racial issue as well. Women of color are more heavily scrutinized and penalized for their reproductive choices.

Indiana's message is clear here: give birth to a healthy baby, or face felony charges. The choice is yours, ladies.

Image via Getty.