Sure, that headline’s sensationalized a bit, but it got you here and now you need to know about some terrifying stuff going down in Indiana — which could have far-reaching consequences for the way legislation around reproductive rights continues to be shaped across the country.
Purvi Patel is a 33-year-old woman from Indiana who was recently charged with feticide, which is considered a felony. She has also been charged with neglect. According to the South Bend Tribune:
Court documents allege Patel last year left an infant in a Dumpster.
Patel told doctors she believed the baby was stillborn, the documents say.
But a forensic pathologist ruled the infant was born alive and took a breath, a probable cause affidavit says.
Prior to labor, Patel took drugs she ordered from Hong Kong in an attempt to abort the pregnancy, court documents allege.
Indiana state law also says an individual commits feticide when she “knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.” Patel faces up to 20 years for feticide and 50 years for neglect.
Over at Bustle, Lauren Barbato says that this case is a defining moment for reproductive rights. Patel was arrested only after she sought medical attention for complications that arose when she took the internet-order drugs to terminate her pregnancy. Barbato says:
Although state-level feticide law don’t apply to abortion, they continually blur the reproductive rights lines — and they may harm women more than protect them. It’s never a good idea to induce an abortion on your own, but should pregnant women be penalized when their pregnancies go awry and they need medical attention, whether or not they self-induced an abortion, attempted suicide or used drugs that caused a miscarriage?
It has been reported that the fetus was 28 weeks old and took a single breath after Patel left it in a dumpster behind a store — which may be the narrative that Indiana state prosectuors use in pursuing a case against Patel.
Isha Aran’s interpretation of events at Jezebel further reflects our own skepticism at the prosecution’s overzealous pursuit of Patel:
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.
Patel’s case could set a terrifying precedent for all expecting mothers in the state. Kathrine Jack, an Indiana-based attorney who’s been following the case closely tells The Guardian, “To use feticide charges in this way is bad for public health. Women will become afraid to go to their doctors for fear of arrest.”
This case is also grabbing headlines for the fact that it’s a rarer circumstance that a South Asian woman is facing criminal charges — not for an act of violence or an intentional act of defiance — but for daring to go to a doctor. The Daily Beast‘s Sally Kohn digs into how prosecuting women of color for these kinds of charges can particularly stigmatize them:
While access to contraception and comprehensive reproductive health care is under jeopardy for women all across America, access for women of color is even more acutely threatened…The result is that sexist infanticide laws are exacerbated by economic inequality and racial bias such that women of color are disproportionately penalized.
As far as taxpayer dollars being used to keep the streets clean and keep crime down, this probably doesn’t fit the bill. Even the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice came to Patel’s defense:
The outcome of this pregnancy was tragic. It was also tragic that Ms. Patel did not get the appropriate supportive medical care she so desperately needed. That it has become a criminal case is inappropriate, immoral, cruel and sets a dangerous new precedent. Those of us who are Christian know that when Jesus responded to the hemorrhaging woman there was no place for aggressive interrogation and punishment. It was all for healing.
Rohin Guha is an Editor at The Aerogram. Talk to him on Twitter if you’d like!