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.