An Indiana appeals court dropped feticide charges Friday against a woman who used abortion medication to induce her own abortion. The court unanimously ruled that Indiana’s feticide law was not intended to apply to abortions, and that 35-year-old Purvi Patel was not an exception to the rule.
Patel’s case, the first of its kind in the United States, was initially based on contradicting claims.
Patel appeared at a hospital in 2013 telling doctors she had experienced a miscarriage, and had left the remains in a dumpster outside of her home. But after noticing how far along Patel was in her pregnancy, her doctor went to find the fetus, believing it could still be alive. While Patel said she had delivered a stillborn baby, her doctor said the fetus was still able to breathe when he found it. Later, detectives found evidence that she had ordered abortion pills online.
So while the court dropped the murder charge, they held up a lesser charge against Patel in the case — a felony for leaving the allegedly live infant in the dumpster, or “neglecting a dependent.” This indicates that the judges believed Patel’s doctor’s story over her own statement. Instead of a 20-year prison sentence for feticide, Patel now faces no more than three years behind bars.
Major reproductive rights groups fought against Patel’s initial charges, concerned that this case could normalize courts’ ability to imprison women for having an abortion.
“To hold a woman criminally culpable for her perceived pregnancy outcomes really takes us down a very slippery slope,” said Lisa Sangoi, an attorney with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, in a March interview with MSNBC.
Now, this decision could set a precedent for future cases in Indiana — and across the country.
“I think it should give Indiana prosecutors pause before bringing any feticide charges against pregnant women,” said Kate Jack, an Indiana attorney who provided counsel to NAPW in the case, in an told the Indy Star.
Patel’s case came under increased scrutiny after GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump announced that his running mate would be Indiana Governor Mike Pence, illuminating the governor’s poor record on reproductive rights. Patel is the second woman in Indiana to be charged under the state’s feticide law but the first to be convicted.