Indiana Appeals Court Sends Mixed Message with Purvi Patel Decision

For Immediate Release

National Network of Abortion Funds
Contact: 

Jenni Kotting, Communications Director for the National Network of Abortion Funds
media@fundabortionnow.org

Indiana Appeals Court Sends Mixed Message with Purvi Patel Decision

People all over the nation have been waiting with baited breath to hear a decision on the appeal of Purvi Patel’s case. The successful prosecution of Purvi Patel established a dangerous precedent for punishing the pregnancy outcomes of people of color in Indiana and in other states with similar laws. Patel has been in jail for over a year due to the unscientific and biased arguments on the part of the prosecution. Although the decision sounds promising in that the feticide charge has been vacated, Patel still has a felony charge. 

On Friday, July 22nd, 2016, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided that 

“the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the baby would not have died but for Patel’s failure to provide medical care. Therefore, we vacate Patel’s class A felony conviction and remand to the trial court with instructions to enter judgment of conviction for class D felony neglect of a dependent and resentence her accordingly.”

The court vacated Patel’s charge of feticide, stating,

“We hold that the legislature did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to illegal abortions or to be used to prosecute women for their own abortions. Therefore, we vacate Patel’s feticide conviction.”

The decision on her appeal case will set a standard for how pregnant people, particularly women of color, are treated through their experiences with abortion, miscarriage, and other pregnancy outcomes. As abortion access advocates celebrate the statement the Indiana Court of Appeals made in stating that feticide can’t be used to prosecute “illegal abortions,” it is also a moment to reflect on the fact that people of color and people who have abortions of any kind are still vulnerable to being charged with a felony. While vacating the feticide charge has been the hopeful focus of the outcome for many, the felony class D, with a sentence of 180 days to six years, sends a mixed message that doesn’t yet restore the relationship between doctors and patients. 

Already, Indiana is not a safe place for pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, or miscarriage. It has the fourth highest rate of maternal deaths in the United States, its early infant mortality rate is just as alarming at 7.1 percent (compared to a national average of 5.6 percent), and the disparity is 2.3 times higher between black and white infant deaths. Overall, Indiana residents have worse health outcomes than the rest of the nation, particularly among people of color. The fact that people of color are at greater risk for miscarriage puts them also at greater risk for incarceration due to feticide laws already on the books, such as those applied to Indiana residents Bei Bei Shuai and Purvi Patel, which medical and legal experts have witnessed and decried.

Shelly Dodson, Director of All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center in Bloomington, Indiana agrees that Purvi Patel’s sentence and class D felony charge set up a dangerous divide between doctors and patients, and describes what it’s like to lack support from the state government:

“The research is clear. If pregnant people fear criminal consequences, they don’t go to the doctor. Indiana is setting a dangerous precedent not to trust the medical community. Choosing to criminalize people around pregnancy decisions and pregnancy outcomes is a grave injustice, which is just as true for anti-abortion laws like HB 1337 as it is for Purvi Patel. The state of Indiana is sending a clear message, to anyone who is or might be pregnant that, “you don’t deserve help, you don’t deserve support - you deserve jail.” People throughout Indiana deserve open-hearted support through all their pregnancy and parenting turning points and to be treated with respect and dignity.”

Parker Dockray, the Executive Director of Backline describes why support for pregnant people is so crucial: 

“The state of Indiana is choosing to restrict and punish women of color who experience poor pregnancy outcomes, while at the same time taking away needed supports such as unbiased options counseling, information and support for postpartum depression, and other resources for pregnant people and families. Purvi Patel’s case is an example of why access to information and support is so crucial. Indiana’s leaders continue to enforce a punitive response when their focus should be on increasing supportive programs and access to information - not on punishing people who have had a miscarriage or are seeking abortion care.”

Jenni Kotting, Indiana resident and Communications Director for the National Network of Abortion Funds describes further:

“Imagine going to the hospital, despite all the alarm bells ringing in your head, especially in a state that has a track record of criminalizing miscarriage and abortion. You do your best to get the health care you need to survive, you say what you need to say, only to have your physician contact law enforcement. You get hauled off to prison. And then you receive a 20 year sentence after going through a court process that gets everything wrong, assassinates your character, all the while knowing that your tragedy is a precedent for any other person who has an abortion or miscarriage in Indiana. This happened to Purvi Patel and this can happen to any one of us who can get pregnant. It’s a heinous breach of medical confidentiality that can never be fully mended.”

Yamani Hernandez, Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds decries 

“While the Indiana Court of Appeals attempted to disrupt the troubling relationship between feticide laws and abortion rights, they ultimately failed Purvi Patel. They upheld the State’s accusation that Patel could have prevented death after an extremely preterm miscarriage, which rejects both medical science and compassion for a woman who needed medical care, not to be sent to prison. 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. It needs to stop, and the decision didn’t go far enough to restore full justice for Purvi Patel.” 

All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center works every day to make sure that people who walk through its doors are respected and given all the information and resources they need. All-Options serves hundreds of Hoosiers each month, providing all-options pregnancy counseling as well as abortion funding alongside free diapers, baby clothes and supplies, safer sex kits, and referrals for all kinds of health care and social services. In short, they offer services that make pregnancy and family planning a lot easier, despite the roadblocks the state government puts in people’s way. 

Backline promotes unconditional and judgment-free support for people in all their decisions, feelings and experiences with pregnancy, parenting, adoption and abortion.

The National Network of Abortion Funds is a network of grassroots, local organizations that are funding abortion and building power to fight for cultural & political change. NNAF provides technical support and infrastructure for our member funds on the ground, and runs its own abortion fund, the George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund. In 2014, NNAF and member organizations received 116,000 requests, and assisted 30,000 individuals seeking $3.5 million in funding for abortions, transportation assistance, translation, and childcare.

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