Indiana landed on everyone’s radar last week due to the passage of their Religious Freedom Restoration Act, (or the “It’s okay to be a homophobic douche if you want to because, you know, Jesus” rule) and then followed up this supreme act of insensitivity and short-sightedness by sentencing the first US woman to 20 years in prison for miscarrying a pregnancy.
The facts of the case are heartbreaking, and infuriating.
In 2013, Purvi Patel, a 33 year old woman coming from a staunchly religious family, found herself pregnant, scared, and unwed. She reportedly sent texts to a friend about ordering abortion inducing drugs online, which the prosecution then used as evidence that Patel “murdered” her fetus, even though no trace of the drugs were ever found in Patel’s bloodwork. Patel insists that she had a miscarriage and, terrified of her parent’s reaction, placed the stillborn fetus in a bag in a dumpster. After her bleeding did not subside however, she sought care at a local hospital where doctors reported her to police under suspicion of feticide.
Prosecutors went on to charge Patel with both fetal homicide and neglecting a child, charges that completely contradict one another since the first allege that the baby was born dead, while the second requires the child be living in order to neglect it. State attorneys argued, however, that both charges could apply “by expanding the notion of feticide to an unsuccessful attempt to end a pregnancy.”
If you’re not simmering in rage by now, you should be. Patel, a woman in need of help both social and physical, will now be serving 20 years in prison for miscarrying her baby instead of receiving the assistance she needs. Even IF she had used the abortion drugs prosecutors say she ordered, 20 years is a long damn time for a confused, scared woman to lose to the prison system just because she wasn’t ready/prepared/able to be a mother and made a desperate decision. If unintended pregnancy and abortion weren’t clouded by such terrifyingly contradictory legislation and societal shame, women like Patel would have healthy access to the support they need instead of being left with only desperate options.
And there are 37 other states with similar laws restricting the rights of pregnant women under the guise of “protecting fetuses.”
An excerpt from The Guardian better articulates this point:
As Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told me last year about laws aimed at drug-using pregnant women, this kind of prosecution “is about making pregnant women – from the time an egg is fertilized – subject to state surveillance, control and extreme punishment.”
And, as with other laws that hurt pregnant women, Indiana’s feticide law was not intended (explicitly, anyway) to be a policy that affected women: it was supposedly designed to target illegal abortion providers. But despite the anti-choice insistence that women are “victims” of abortion providers, the history of how similar laws are used show just how much it’s women – and women of color in particular – who are directly impacted by “fetal protection” policies.
Proponents of laws like the one applied in Patel’s case believe that these laws will protect fetuses, but the fact is that they end up putting the women carrying them in danger. Which points to a bigger problem: anti-choice supporters believe women are merely vessels for procreation— like curvy little easy-bake ovens— who, once pregnant, should be quiet, humble, and compliant, and never, ever, question their new role as fetus incubator.
But anti-choice proponents forget that not every woman is able or ready to carry a child to term. Abortion has been, and will always be, an act that women will fight for. Feticide laws and anti-abortion laws won’t prevent women from seeking abortions—prior to Roe v. Wade, nearly one-fifth of maternal deaths in America were due to illegal abortions… Yes, that means there are women out there who will risk death to end a pregnancy.
Which is why over-reaching laws like this scare the shit out of me and should scare the shit out of every woman who thinks her body is her own.
Because at the heart of this story is a woman who felt trapped and terrified by her pregnancy, who shared those fears with a friend, and—when she miscarried—was sentenced to jail for having them, setting the terrifying precedent that any woman who expresses doubt during her pregnancy can be charged with feticide if she later miscarries or has a stillbirth.
What you can do:
- Raise awareness by sharing Ms. Patel’s story!
- Sign the petition to pardon Ms. Patel. If we get enough signatures, the white house will have to respond, which in turn raises awareness and keeps Ms. Patel’s plight in the public arena.
- Here’s another petition to the Indiana State House, Senate, and Governor Mike Pence.
- Or you can contact Governor Mike Pence via email and snail mail.
- Share our artwork on your social media to raise awareness!