INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — An appeals court has overturned the feticide conviction of an Indiana woman who was sentenced to 20 years behind bars after she allegedly threw her newborn baby in the trash.
As previously reported, in 2013, then 31-year-old Purvi Patel went to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mishawaka with heavy bleeding and a umbilical cord hanging from her body after giving birth.
She initially denied being pregnant, but later told investigators that she had found out just three weeks prior that she was with child. Patel had been having an affair with a co-worker.
As her Hindu family is against premarital sex, Patel said that she panicked when she began to go into labor and left the baby in a dumpster behind a local shopping center because she “didn’t know what else to do.” She claimed that the baby was stillborn and that she had attempted to revive the child, although she later admitted that she didn’t want her parents to know that she had been having sex and became pregnant.
“[You didn’t want them to know] about the encounter, or about tonight?” a detective asked her.
“All of it,” she replied.
When the case went to court, prosecutors contended that the child, who is estimated to be between 25 to 30 weeks gestation, was born alive and that Patel left the baby to die.
While toxicology reports came up negative for abortion-inducing drugs at the time of the investigation, Dr. Kelly McGuire, who examined Patel and the baby retrieved from the dumpster, told the court earlier last year that the baby could have survived following birth and a medical examiner testified that the baby passed a “floating test,” indicating that he or she could have been breathing following their birth.
Patel was declared guilty of feticide and neglect of a dependent and sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
But Patel’s attorneys appealed the conviction, and received support from groups like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. It was argued that there was insufficient evidence that the child had been born alive, but prosecutors noted that doctors had testified at trial that the baby’s heart was likely beating when he or she was born and could have taken a breath.
On Friday, an appeals court overturned Patel’s feticide conviction, as it opined that the Indiana legislature never intended the feticide statute to apply to abortions. The law, the panel ruled, rather “intended for any criminal liability to be imposed on medical personnel, not women who perform their own abortions.”
“Given that the legislature decriminalized abortion with respect to pregnant women only two years before it enacted the feticide statute, we conclude that the legislature never intended the feticide statute to apply to pregnant women,” the court’s decision outlined. “Therefore, we vacate Patel’s feticide conviction.”
However, the panel concluded that prosecutors provided ample proof that the baby had been born alive, although it agreed with the defense that the child might have survived anyway. It reduced her child neglect conviction from a class A to a class D.
Patel will be resentenced at a later time.
Abortion advocacy groups were still upset about the development, as the National Network of Abortion Funds opined in a statement, “People of color are bearing the brunt of unscientific laws and misplaced moral outrage against abortion, which is blurring into the territory of miscarriage, putting any pregnant person at risk of prosecution and incarceration.”
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