Indiana Court Throws Out Feticide Conviction for Purvi Patel
Just when things were starting to feel pretty bleak this week, there’s a bit of good news for a Friday afternoon, and not good news like “It’s Prince George’s birthday,” but good news like, “The Indiana Court of Appeals just threw out the feticide conviction of a woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for the mutually exclusive crimes of feticide and child neglect.”
In 2015 Indiana resident Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of child neglect and feticide. If that seems illogical, it is, because a feticide conviction would be for killing a fetus in the womb, and child neglect meant the abandonment of a living, breathing infant. You can’t actually do both those things. They’re mutually exclusive. But somehow that did not stop Patel from being convicted of both and sentenced to serve 20 years in prison.
Patel’s case is a fraught one. In 2013 she went to the hospital for severe bleeding, and she told doctors there that she had delivered a premature, stillborn baby and had disposed of its remains in a dumpster. The hospital called the police.
Patel was charged with feticide and child neglect because prosecutors assert that she bought abortion drugs online and gave herself an at-home abortion, which is illegal in the U.S., but increasingly common in areas where safe, legal abortion is becoming harder to come by. New York Magazine reports that prosecutors’ evidence for Patel’s use of abortion drugs consisted exclusively of text messages about maybe buying the drugs. Court records reportedly did not offer any actual evidence that Patel bought abortion drugs, and toxicology reports reportedly did not find evidence that Patel had taken any such drugs.
But still, Patel was somehow charged and convicted of both feticide and child neglect, despite the fact that a person cannot logically commit both, and also despite the fact that the feticide law was intended to punish people who attacked pregnant women and caused fetal death, not to punish women for self-inflicted abortions, or alleged self-inflicted abortions.
Now Indiana Judge Terry A. Crone has thrown out the feticide conviction, writing:
“Given that the legislature decriminalized abortion with respect to pregnant women only two years before it enacted the feticide statute, we conclude that the legislature never intended the feticide statute to apply to pregnant women. Therefore, we vacate Patel’s feticide conviction.”
Judge Crone also reduced the severity of the child neglect conviction from a class A felony to a class D felony on the grounds that the court did believe prosecutors’ claims that the baby was born alive and that Patel knew it, but that the prosecutors had not proved that the baby could have survived if Patel had sought aid.
Patel was the first woman in the U.S. convicted of feticide for the death of her own fetus. Another Indiana woman was charged with it when she attempted suicide while pregnant, and she survived but the fetus did not. She reportedly pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
According to The Guardian, the new ruling will take at least a decade off Patel’s sentence.