In 2013, Purvi Patel ended up in an emergency room of a South Bend, Indiana hospital for heavy vaginal bleeding. According to RH Reality Check, which has been reporting on the case since it started, Patel initially told doctors she wasn't pregnant, but then later admitted that she had miscarried a stillborn fetus which she had placed in a bag in a nearby dumpster. Police were immediately brought in to stand guard outside of Patel's hospital room while an investigation took place.
While investigating Patel, police reviewed her cell phone records which showed text messages indicating that she may have ordered drugs online to help terminate a pregnancy. Patel was eventually brought up on conflicting charges of both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent. RH Reality Check's Senior Legal Analyst, Jessica Pieklo, explains the confusing nature of the charges:
To support the contradictory charges of feticide, which required the state prove Patel both 'knowingly or intentionally' terminated her pregnancy 'with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus' and that she neglected a dependent, which requires a live birth, prosecutors argued that Patel took drugs to induce a miscarriage but that instead of miscarrying, Patel delivered a live fetus that she abandoned.
During the trial, the prosecution needed to prove that Patel took some sort of drug to end her pregnancy, despite the fact that no abortifacients were found in her system when tested. There were other questionable aspects to the trial as well, as when the state's pathologist used a widely unaccepted method to prove the fetus was actually born alive.
And yet, despite the lack of evidence, a jury found Patel guilty of both charges, and she awaits sentencing which should take place next month. While we may never know exactly what happened in Patel's case, it's clear that there are severe consequences for dealing with an unintended pregnancy in a state with increasingly rigid abortion laws, as well as strict feticide laws. What's happening to Patel is indicative of what happens in states like Indiana, where fetal rights come before a pregnant person's. Will every case of miscarriage be treated as possible feticide? Will more women stand trial and be convicted, despite shaky evidence? If cases like Patel's are any indication, we may be headed in a dangerous direction under the guise of protecting the unborn.
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