It’s been nearly two months since opening remarks were given in the appeals trial of Purvi Patel – a 33-year-old South Asian woman who was turned over to police by her doctor after seeking medical attention for a pregnancy loss. Convicted of feticide and neglect of a dependent by the state of Indiana in 2015, Patel has been serving a 20-year sentence ever since. But on Friday, July 22nd, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided that, “the legislature did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to illegal abortions or to be used to prosecute women for their own abortions,” and vacated Patel’s conviction of feticide. Patel’s charge of neglect of a dependent remains and was downgraded to a class D felony.
The decision on Patel’s appeal sets an important standard for how pregnant people, particularly women of color, should be treated through their experiences with abortion, miscarriage, and other pregnancy outcomes. We are grateful that the Indiana Court of Appeals did its job in upholding what is already Indiana law, recognizing that the state “legislature did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to women who have abortions.” And yet, this decision reminds us that people of color, immigrants, and those seeking abortions are still vulnerable under the law. While vacating the feticide charge is a hopeful outcome, upholding the class D felony, with a sentence of 180 days to three years, sends a mixed message that doesn’t yet restore the relationship between doctors and patients.
We already know that Indiana is not a safe place for pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, or miscarriage, and Patel’s arrest and conviction is just one indicator of this. Shelly Dodson, Director of our All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center finds the rift between patients and healthcare providers troubling:
“The research is clear. If pregnant people fear criminal consequences, they don’t go to the doctor. Indiana is setting a dangerous precedent not to trust the medical community. Choosing to criminalize people around pregnancy decisions and pregnancy outcomes is a grave injustice, which is just as true for anti-abortion laws like HB 1337 as it is for Purvi Patel. The state of Indiana is sending a clear message, to anyone who is or might be pregnant that, “you don’t deserve help, you don’t deserve support – you deserve jail.” People throughout Indiana deserve open-hearted support through all their pregnancy and parenting turning points and to be treated with respect and dignity.”
Backline’s Executive Director, Parker Dockray, notes the inconsistencies in the state’s focus on criminalizing abortion and pregnancy loss while weakening the safety net and resources for pregnant people and families:
“The state of Indiana is choosing to restrict and punish women of color who experience poor pregnancy outcomes, while at the same time taking away needed supports such as unbiased options counseling, information and support for postpartum depression, and other resources for pregnant people and families. Purvi Patel’s case is an example of why access to information and support is so crucial. Indiana’s leaders continue to enforce a punitive response when their focus should be on increasing supportive programs and access to information – not on punishing people who have had a miscarriage or are seeking abortion care.”
Read more about the impact of Purvi Patel’s appeal here:
Indiana Court Overturns Purvi Patel’s Feticide Conviction – Indianapolis Star
Purvi Patel’s Reduced ‘Feticide’ Sentence is a Victory – But Not Enough – The Establishment
Advocates Applaud Indiana Reversal on Purvi Patel Feticide Case – NBC News
Indiana Court of Appeals Opinion in Purvi Patel v. State of Indiana