On Monday, the state of Indiana sentenced 33-year-old Indian-American Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison on charges of feticide – an act that causes the death of a fetus – and neglect of a dependent. She received a 30-year-sentence on the felony neglect charge, 10 of which were suspended. A six-year sentence for feticide will be served concurrently.
Patel is the first woman in the U.S. to be charged, convicted and sentenced on a feticide charge. Reproductive rights activists are outraged.
“What this conviction means is that anti-abortion laws will be used to punish pregnant woman,” says Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
Patel was arrested in July 2013 after she went to the emergency room, bleeding heavily, at St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana. Despite initially denying the pregnancy, Patel eventually admitted to medical authorities that she had a miscarriage and threw the stillborn fetus in a dumpster.
According to Sue Ellen Braunlin, doctor and co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, Purvi was most likely 23-24 weeks pregnant, although prosecutors argued Patel was 25 weeks along in the state’s opening argument. The prosecution confirmed on Monday that the baby died within seconds of being born.
Patel’s lawyers argued that she panicked when she realized she was in labor. Patel comes from a conservative Hindu family that looks down on sex outside marriage, and the pregnancy was a result of an affair Patel had with her co-worker.
“Purvi Patel’s conviction amounts to punishment for having a miscarriage and then seeking medical care, something that no woman should worry would lead to jail time,” said Deepa Iyer, Activist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program and former director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.
Despite Patel’s claim that she gave birth to a stillborn child, prosecutors argued that Patel gave birth to a live fetus and charged her with child neglect. Prosecutors also claimed that Patel ordered abortion-inducing drugs online and tried to terminate her pregnancy, but a toxicology report failed to find evidence of any drugs in her system.
Read more: NBC News