Purvi Patel was sentenced Monday to 41 years in prison on charges of feticide and felony neglect of a dependent after an Indiana jury in early February found her guilty of the charges. She was ordered to serve 20 years in prison after receiving a 30-year sentence on the felony neglect charge, with an additional ten years suspended.
Patel received a six-year sentence on the feticide charge, but that will be served concurrently with the 20-year sentence. She will spend five years on probation when she is released from prison.
Patel in July 2013 went to a hospital emergency room suffering from heavy vaginal bleeding. She denied that she had been pregnant, but eventually told doctors that she had miscarried and placed the stillborn fetus in a bag and placed the bag in a dumpster.
Police questioned Patel without a lawyer present while she was in the hospital. Police also searched the text messages in Patel’s phone, which prosecutors claim revealed that she had communicated to a friend that she was pregnant and had purchased drugs online to terminate the pregnancy. Patel, who is Indian-American, 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.
In order to support the contradictory charges of feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, the state was required to prove that 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.
A charge of feticide requires a dead fetus, while a charge of neglect of a dependent requires a live birth.
The state argued that Patel took drugs to induce a miscarriage but that instead of miscarrying, she delivered a live fetus that she subsequently abandoned.
Over the course of the seven-day trial, prosecutors failed to introduce any evidence that Patel ingested the drugs the prosecution claimed she ordered. The state’s own toxicologist, Dr. Prentice Jones, Jr., admitted that he couldn’t find any evidence of abortifacients in Patel’s system.
State prosecutors failed to introduce scientifically rigorous evidence to support the felony neglect charge, which requires proof that Patel’s fetus had been born alive.
To support that charge, the state’s forensic pathologist, Joseph Prahlow, used a discredited “float test,” which tests for air in the lungs. Float tests are not widely accepted in the scientific community as a proper method for establishing whether a fetus was born alive.
Witnesses at trial could not agree on the fetus’s gestational age. Prosecutors and state experts claimed that Patel’s fetus was 25 to 28 weeks’ gestation. Patel’s best friend, however, testified that Patel, who did not take the stand in her own defense, believed she was about two months pregnant.
Patel is the second pregnant person in Indiana to be charged under Indiana’s feticide law, and the first person to be charged, convicted, and sentenced for the crime of feticide in the United States. Another Indiana woman, Bei Bei Shuai, was charged for the crime of feticide after she attempted to commit suicide when she was eight months pregnant.
Shuai survived, but her daughter did not. The feticide charge against Shuai was ultimately dropped after Shuai accepted a plea deal of criminal recklessness, a Class D misdemeanor.
Advocates for pregnant people decried Patel’s conviction. Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told Rewire that Patel’s conviction does not bode well for pregnant people in the United States.
“Since states tend to copy one another, we can expect that attempts to punish pregnant women will increase in other states, and that women in Indiana who take steps to end their own pregnancies, experience pregnancy losses, or are unable to guarantee a healthy birth outcome will rightly fear that a criminal investigation and arrest will follow, “ Paltrow said.
“The prosecution, conviction, and cruel length of the sentence confirms that feticide and other measures promoted by anti-abortion organizations are intended to punish, not protect, women,” she added.
Patel plans to appeal her conviction, according to local outlet 95.3 MNC, and has 30 days to do so.