Appeals Court Hears Case of Purvi Patel

On Monday, the Indiana Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the feticide and child neglect conviction of Purvi Patel. Patel, the first woman in the U.S. to be convicted for terminating her pregnancy, has served 14 months of a 20 year prison sentence. Since her arrest, reproductive justice advocates have argued vehemently that Patel and other women should not be prosecuted for their pregnancy outcomes.

Patel was arrested in 2013 after seeking emergency medical treatment following the loss of her pregnancy. Instead of treating her with respect and quality care, the attending doctor called the police, who interrogated and then arrested her while she was still in her hospital bed. She was later convicted of both neglect of a dependent and feticide (charges which Patel’s lawyers have argued are contradictory).

At Monday’s hearing, Patel’s lawyers argued that that the feticide law in Indiana was intended to protect pregnant women against attacks by third parties, not to prosecute women for having abortions, miscarriages, or stillbirths. The upholding of this conviction would set a dangerous legal precedent for feticide laws being used to punish pregnant women, not only for self-induced abortions but also for drinking, smoking, or any other conduct prosecutors could link to pregnancy outcomes. In addition to denying women their civil and human rights, this precedent may discourage any pregnant person from seeking important medical care during pregnancy or miscarriage. While the judges weighed these implications of the precedent in court on Monday, their standing on the case is still unclear.

The conviction, along with the 2011 Indiana case against Bei Bei Shuai and increasing laws policing reproductive rights, are evidence of the disproportionate criminalization and stereotyping of pregnant Asian American and Pacific Islander women and pregnant people of color in general. Miriam Yeung, executive director of Overbrook grantee National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, stated, “Asian American and Pacific Islander women are particularly vulnerable for being targeted because of myths and racist stereotypes about our reproductive decision-making.” The denial of Patel’s appeal would only compound the already staggering legal burden and lack of access to reproductive justice for communities of color.

Overbrook grantees National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and National Advocates for Pregnant Women have been closely involved in advocating for Patel and mobilizing the public to support her appeal. Patel remains incarcerated while the Indiana Court of Appeals considers her case.

Updates to The Overbrook Foundation Website

The Foundation website now includes important updates on its work over the past year. We have posted a recent message from the Chair and President, which includes information on changes made to the Foundation’s Board, its commitment to the Divest Invest Philanthropy initiative, and its recently completed strategic plan. The plan, which will be implemented in 2016 – 2018, reaffirms the Foundation’s mission and values, as well as its continued support of human rights and environmental conservation efforts as its core work. Central to the strategic plan is Overbrook’s strengthened commitment to its relationships with grantees and to the broader movements it supports. Partnerships with many current grantees will continue, and new initiatives will be carried out incrementally and assessed along the way. To read more about the Foundation’s renewed mission, please see its full strategic review.

February Grants Awarded!

Remembering Berta Cáceres

Last Thursday, indigenous activist and 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Cáceres was co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and an inspiring community leader to the region’s Lenca people. She led campaigns on a variety of environmental, indigenous, and women’s issues, including a decade-long fight against a proposal to dam the Gualcarque River, an important water resource considered sacred by the Lenca People.

The Honduran police initially reported the case as an attempted burglary, but the victim’s friends and peers are certain the murder was linked to Cáceres’ work as an activist. The tragedy occurred less than a week after she received death threats in relation to her efforts against the Gualcarque River damming project. The handling of the case has been emblematic of an escalating situation in the country with the most killings of environmental defenders in the world. The murder, and the long preceding history of impunity towards crime against activists in Honduras, has led to protests throughout the country and solidarity from around the world. Activists are calling for a thorough investigation of this murder and that those responsible are held accountable.

While Overbrook did not work directly with Ms. Cáceres, we are committed to supporting human rights defenders at risk due to their advocacy and we honor her leadership and activism. Many of our grantees were partners in her efforts to defend human and environmental rights, and the loss is felt deeply throughout the community. To learn more about Berta’s work and developments on her case, please see coverage by Overbrook grantees, or visit the website of her organization.

Overbrook Grantee Featured by NatGeo

Pronatura Noroeste AC, an Overbrook grantee since 2008, received some well-deserved coverage last week when its conservation work was featured in the online version of National Geographic Magazine. The article highlighted a recent trip to Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California Sur by renowned marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle and Mission Blue, an initiative working to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas to protect 20% of the world’s oceans by 2020.

While in Cabo Pulmo, Dr. Earle and her team visited the Pronatura Noroeste team and learned about their recent work building a new park nature center, which will help educate visitors on the area’s ecological value. The region holds the only coral reef system in the Sea of Cortes, and has become one of the most successful conservation sites in the Gulf of California, in large part due to Pronatura Noroeste’s work fending off destructive development proposals and fostering community conservation efforts. The new nature center will increase awareness of the park’s unique ecosystems and of the ongoing threats they face, helping to ensure the region’s continued conservation. The center is funded in part by the Foundation, and is due to open to the public later this year.

ICE Raids Threaten Immigrant Families

This month, the Obama administration began an aggressive immigration operation targeting Central American asylum seekers for detainment and deportation. On the first weekend of the New Year, at a time when many were spending time with their loved ones for the holidays, at least 121 individuals primarily from Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina were taken into custody during a series of raids that immigration advocates are condemning as cruel and unconstitutional. Advocacy groups have received numerous reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials breaking down doors, deceiving immigrants into letting them enter homes without warrants, and detaining children as young as four years old.

Most of the victims of these raids have been families, often women and children, and many have recent or pending asylum claims. “Our interviews revealed that these families have bona fide asylum claims, but were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present them at their hearings in immigration court,” Katie Shepherd, managing attorney for the CARA Project, said in a press statement. “It’s beyond shameful that these families, who risked everything to seek protection in the United States, were being forcibly returned to the violence and turmoil they fled in Central America.” Despite President Obama’s executive action on DAPA, which provides deferred action status for some undocumented immigrants and will be considered at the Supreme Court later this year, the Obama administration continues to deport the greatest number of immigrants of any president in history.  Immigrant rights advocates, including several Overbrook grantees, are challenging him to stop separating families, to do better for all immigrants and to halt this round of raids.

Repatriated families who were seeking refuge from violence may face an even greater risk to their lives than when they left, as the situation in Central America has been steadily deteriorating since 2014. These families may return to gang threats, gender violence, and other forms of persecution. For immigrant families in cities that have not been targeted by ICE raids, the fear of being next is palpable. Cities and neighborhoods with large Latino communities across the country are reporting decreased school and work attendance as immigrants try to remain indoors. Legal organizations and allied officials are encouraging immigrants continue go about daily activities, but to know their rights as these raids continue.