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Purvi Patel’s Imprisonment and the Implications of Anti-Choice Laws

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April 1, 2015

Yesterday, thirty-three year old Purvi Patel of Indiana was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment on the charges of feticide and neglect. Patel was sentenced with thirty years of jail time on charges of neglect, six years for infanticide (to be served at the same time as the neglect charges), and is likely to spend five years time on probation post-prison.

RH Reality Check coverage of the news described Patel as an Indian American who, “lived in a conservative Hindu household in which it was expected that she would not engage in premarital sex, and wanted to keep the pregnancy a secret from her parents.”

Purvi Patel sought medical care at St. Joseph Hospital, a Catholic organization, after she was experiencing bleeding. According to the Vatican’s Catechism 2270, the Catholic Church does not support any type of pregnancy termination. This may have contributed to workers decision to call the police, who later arrived at the hospital to question Patel and search through her text messages. Patel insisted that the pregnancy was a miscarriage. The prosecution claims that text messages shows she was interested in obtaining abortifacients, despite toxicology reports that failed to find any of the drugs in Patel’s system.

The prosecutors sought to charge Patel with feticide which, according to Imani Ghandi of RH Reality Check, “requires a dead fetus, while a charge of neglect of a dependent requires a live birth.” Prosecutors had to prove that she had an intent outside of birthing a child and terminating the pregnancy and they did so with questioning and tests (such as the disputed “float test”) over the trial period that lasted almost two years.

Lynn M. Paltrow, director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, wrote an impressive statement that explains how dangerous these methods of punishment for abortion through imprisonment are for people who believe in a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy. She writes, “It is likely that most people in the U.S., whether they identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” don’t want to see any woman locked up for having an abortion (including the more than 60 percent of women who have abortions who are already mothers). Perhaps this is why anti-abortion organizations work so hard to deny the predictable and inevitable consequences of their efforts: women being locked up.”

These laws and trials were not meant to protect Purvi Patel’s health, but to discipline her in a system that does not believe in peoples’ abilities to make decisions about their own bodies. This case shows how this type of legislation directly works to punish people for personal regulation of their bodies. Indiana is one of the first states to use these types of methods for restricting proper reproductive care and increasing stigma against pregnancy termination, but these methods can be used in other anti-choice states. This case is extremely important in determining the future of anti-choice legislation and for critically thinking about how to fight for reproductive justice.

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