SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Diya TV) — Purvi Patel, an Indian-American woman who was recently sentenced to a 20-year prison sentence for feticide, is appealing the conviction, and the case is being watched closely by activists and experts alike who believe the judgement could set a new precedent in reproductive rights and the criminalization of abortion.
The appeal will be heard on May 23.
In March of last year, Patel became the first woman in the U.S. to be convicted and sentenced for committing feticide, after she ended her own pregnancy. Patel claimed innocence against the charge, saying she had in fact had a miscarriage. When she arrived at the hospital bleeding, her doctor contacted the authorities.
Patel was charged with feticide, inducing an abortion, child neglect and for allegedly having a premature baby and then allowing the baby to die — a rather inconsistent strain of charges, some have argued.
Farah Diaz-Tello, senior staff attorney at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said during a recent interview that if Indiana permits Patel’s prosecution, it will forever change the way women can be punished for such incidents.
“The state has used laws that were never intended to punish pregnant people for losing or ending a pregnancy, and now unless the appellate court steps in, anyone who self-induces an abortion at any stage (which is becoming increasingly common as abortion clinics vanish) could be charged with feticide,” Diaz-Tello said.
She added that permitting a woman to be prosecuted based on the outcome of a pregnancy could set a precedent which requires women to prove that a miscarriage or stillbirth was unintentional.
Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said that knowing what happened to Patel could lead to other women fearing hospital visits if they are experiencing a miscarriage, particularly if they are immigrants.
“Immigrant women already face barriers in accessing healthcare,” Yeung said. “Unfortunately the actions of this doctor have created further misinformation for immigrant women, particularly pregnant women of color, who may now be more hesitant to access emergency healthcare.”
Adding fuel to the fire, Oklahoma last week passed a law which would revoke the license of any doctor who performs an abortion for any reason other than to save a woman’s life. The offense would send them to prison for up to three years. The bill describes abortion as “unprofessional conduct” on par with writing false prescriptions and having sex with patients. It makes no mention of, and provides no exceptions for those abortions which are requested because of rape or incest.
According to multiple reports, Dr. Kelly McGuire of St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center was the doctor on call who contacted police when Patel came to the emergency room. Dr. McGuire is listed as pro-life through his association with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. After he made the initial call, McGuire also assisted police in the search for Patel’s stillborn fetus, according to a report from Salon.
During Patel’s trial, it was McGuire who proclaimed a live birth had taken place, however, Shaku Teas, a pathologist who testified on behalf of the defense, said the baby was stillborn. Teas told the court the fetus’ lungs weren’t developed enough to breathe.