The first woman to be sentenced for killing a foetus has been handed a 20-year prison term for feticide and neglect of a dependent, despite claiming she gave birth to a stillborn baby.
Purvi Patel was bleeding heavily when she entered a hospital emergency room in Indiana in 2013 after giving birth unexpectedly in her bathroom.
She initially denied a pregnancy but later said she had a miscarriage and had disposed of the foetus by placing it in a plastic bag and then in a rubbish bin.
Prosecutors claimed the 33-year-old was 25 weeks pregnant at the time she gave birth, while activists said she was most likely to have been between 23 and 24 weeks pregnant, NBC News reports.
Her lawyers say Patel, who is from a conservative Hindu family, had concealed her pregnancy from her parents and panicked when she realised she was in labour. Patel lived with and cared for her parents and infirm grandparents in a house in South Bend, Indiana.
Patel maintained that the foetus was stillborn but the prosecution argued that she gave birth to a live foetus that died within a few seconds.
"I assumed because the baby was dead there was nothing to do," the South Bend Tribune quoted her as saying during a police interview. “I've never been in this situation. I've never been pregnant before.”
The prosecution also claimed that Patel had ordered drugs to induce an abortion on the internet. However, a toxicology report did not find any evidence of the drugs in her system.
Patel is the second woman to be charged with feticide in the US, but the first to receive a prison sentence. She was prosecuted under state laws that are otherwise intended at targeting illegal abortion providers and prosecuting crimes against pregnant women, Al Jazeera reports.
Women’s rights activists have condemned her conviction and the subsequent sentence. They say the law is being used to prosecute women who miscarry, have stillbirths or try to terminate their own pregnancies.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service described Patel’s case as “tragic” and warned it could set a dangerous precedent for other pregnant women. A spokesperson told The Independent: “Purvi Patel is sadly the latest victim of the creeping criminalisation of pregnant women’s behaviour in America.
“These ‘feticide’ laws are being used to punish the pregnant women they purport to protect, and will only discourage those who need medical care from seeking help, putting women and their babies at greater risk.
“What we are seeing in the US should serve as a warning to those who support reproductive rights in the UK. Ending a pregnancy remains a criminal offence in British law that carries a potential twelve-year prison term if the grounds of the 1967 Abortion Act are not met.
“This means that a woman who buys abortion pills online could be incarcerated. Women need access to high quality reproductive healthcare services and support. In the 21st century, their personal decisions about whether to continue or end a pregnancy do not belong in the criminal law.”
Lynn Paltrow. the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), said she was deelpy disappointed by the outcome. "While no woman should face criminal charges for having an abortion or experiencing a pregnancy loss, the cruel length of this sentence confirms that feticide and other measures promoted by anti-abortion organizations are intended to punish not protect women."
Patel was sentenced to 30-years in prison for neglect with 10 years suspended and a further six years for feticide, which an Indiana judge said would run concurrently.
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