Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Where is the justice for Purvi Patel?

(Purvi Patel, sentenced to 20 years in prison. Image source)

I read an article this morning published by the New York Times with the headline, 'Purvi Patel Could Be Just the Beginning' and one by the Guardian titled 'It isn't justice for Purvi Patel to serve 20 years in prison for an abortion' . The articles discuss a 33 year old woman named Purvi Patel from Indiana, USA, who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent.

Those two things together appear to be contradictory - a sentencing for fetal homicide (aka abortion) and neglecting a living child. But it seems logic is not the thing driving this case.

Take one of the ways the prosecution tried to establish the baby was not stillborn at birth (therefore allowing Patel to also be convicted of neglect of a dependent). They used 17th Century 'science', and so don't be surprised if this sounds more like a method of identifying witchcraft. From the New York Times article:

The pathologist for the prosecution, Joseph Prahlow, testified that the fetus was [...] at 25 to 30 weeks gestation, which is past the point of viability - and was born alive. News reports from the trial emphasized Prahlow's use of a "lung float test" in making his determination. The idea behind the test - which dates from the 17th century - is that if the lungs float in water, the baby took at least one breath. If they sink, then the fetus died before leaving the womb.

Years ago, the test was already completely discredited. (Who's surprised it was discredited? Nobody.)

There has also been a lot of doubt on many other aspects of this case. Patel went to the emergency room with heavy bleeding and told the doctors she had miscarried and that the baby had been stillborn. Not knowing what to do, she put the body in a bag and into a dumpster, which the police later recovered. They also found text messages that Patel sent to a friend about ordering pills from Hong Kong to induce abortion, and three days later she texted the friend again saying, "Just lost the baby." But there is debate as to whether the baby was alive or not when born, and no drugs were found in her system in the blood test taken after she miscarried. When the police initially questioned Patel, it was in the hospital with no attorney present. Patel was convicted on text messages and 17th century science.

The law and this case in particular seems harmful on a number of levels, one of which is the impact it may have on women in Indiana and across the USA in seeking help for abortions. To criminalise abortion (even when apparently abortion is legal in the US), or to make it difficult to access services, or to judge those who do, can lead to women not seeking help. When a woman is desperate to end her pregnancy, it's not a case of whether to do it but how. This is dangerous, because women will get 'backstreet abortions' and order pills online. What these women need is support, education, safety and guidance, and to be able to seek help without fear of the repercussions (such as 20 years in prison). Anti-abortion laws should not be used as a punishment against women, but it seems like this is what's happening.

As written in a CNN article,

Ask yourself: In the case of Purvi Patel, even if she did intend to self-abort and used black market drugs to do so, and if she indeed delivered a live fetus, wouldn't we want to live in a society where she would bring that baby to the hospital for life-saving medical attention rather than be so afraid of prosecution that she threw it in a dumpster?
And a question which the title of the New York Times article raises is: what next? Will more women be sent to prison for abortion? Is this just the beginning? The purpose of sentencing Patel to prison for 20 years is difficult to find a reason for in light of the evidence (or lack of and unreliability of) other than to perhaps 'set an example' or as a means to control women. This woman broke the law, but to me that means there's a problem with the law and this entire case.

If you want to help, then read Outraged About Purvi Patel Case? Four Things To Do Now by Deepa Iyer.

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