Purvi Patel case gaining international attention from abortion supporters, pregnancy advocates

The case of a Granger woman who was found guilty of feticide and neglect of a dependent causing death has received global attention.

Purvi Patel, 33, was sentenced Monday, March 30, to a 41-year sentence, with at least 20 of those years in prison followed by five years on probation. Since the verdict and sentencing, Patel’s case has been the topic of hundreds of blog posts, columns and opinion pieces from news outlets around the world — including The New York TimesThe Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald. She’s also the focus of two hashtag campaigns on Twitter, #PurviPatel and #Justice4Purvi.

Patel isn’t the first person to be charged with feticide but she is the first to be convicted of and sentenced for feticide after attempting to end her own pregnancy, according to a statement from National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Some abortion advocates and reproductive healthcare experts are concerned the case sets a precedent to prosecute pregnant women who have miscarriages in unclear circumstances, according to Vox.

“Prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes,” Lynn Paltrow, executive director for NAPW, told The Guardian in 2014. “No woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy.”

Whether or not the infant was stillborn is a point of contention for critics of the feticide charge.

During the trial, prosecutors argued Patel was 25 to 30 weeks pregnant when she took abortion drugs she illegally purchased online from an international pharmacy. She then put the infant’s body in a plastic bag and left it in a dumpster behind Moe’s Southwest Grill in Mishawaka, which her family owns.

Patel’s defense argued the infant was stillborn and didn’t respond when she tried to revive it. Her lawyer argued there was no proof Patel received or took the abortion drugs and a toxicologist testified there was no way to accurately test for the abortion drugs in her system, according to WNDU.

Instead of relying on toxicology results as evidence for feticide, prosecutors used text messages found on Patel’s cell phone, according to an analysis from Public Radio International.

In a column for The New York Times Magazine, staff writer Emily Bazelon wrote that medical examiners disagree with tests and evidence used by a pathologist in the trial to determine whether or not the infant was stillborn.

Other columnists argue that Patel’s two charges are contradictory.

“Neglecting a child means that you neglected a live child, and feticide means that the baby was born dead,” Jessica Valenti wrote in a column for The Guardian.

But for St. Joseph County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roule, the two charges came from very clear circumstances.

“There were two crimes. The first crime (was) performing an abortion without going to a doctor in Indiana and that obviously led to disastrous consequences,” Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roule told WSBT. “After that, she made a terrible choice – neglect of a dependent and that’s the substance of count 1. She had a baby she wasn’t expecting and obviously her choices are what we’ve talked about (during the trial).”

Roule was unavailable for an interview with 95.3 MNC in April.

St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Hurley ruled in August the feticide charge could stand with the neglect charge, according to the South Bend Tribune.

“You, Miss Patel, are an educated woman of considerable means. If you wished to terminate your pregnancy safely and legally, you could have done so,” Hurley said when Patel was sentenced. “You planned a course of action and took matters into your own hands and chose not to go to a doctor.”

Patel plans to appeal her case and has until April 29 to file documents to do so.

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