South Bend, Indiana: A U.S. woman’s 20-year sentence in the death of her premature infant was cruel and a misuse of the state’s foeticide law, which was not intended to punish women who try to end their own pregnancies, the head of a national advocacy group said Wednesday.
A judge sentenced Purvi Patel, 33, on Monday, saying Patel had abused her position of trust when she gave birth prematurely, threw the baby in the trash and lied to hospital personnel about giving birth.
Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said Patel’s sentence marks the first time a woman in the U.S. has been convicted and sentenced for attempting to end her own pregnancy, despite claims by advocates of foeticide laws that they would not be used to criminalize abortion.
“This is quite traumatic and frightening,” Paltrow said, adding that more than 35 states have foeticide laws that were intended to be used if a woman’s fetus was killed by someone else. “Many people would love to see an end to abortion, but a majority of even those people don’t want to see women locked up in prison.”
Prosecutors contended Patel took drugs from China to end the pregnancy because it was more convenient than having a medical abortion. Patel’s attorney said prosecutors never proved she took any drug to end the pregnancy and that she has been vilified.
Patel was found guilty in February of neglect of a baby — whose body was found on July 14, 2013, in a trash bin behind her family’s restaurant — and of foeticide, which in Indiana is defined as a person who knowingly or intentionally terminates a pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth, to remove a dead foetus or to perform a legal abortion.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roule sought a 30-year sentence for Patel on the neglect charge and 10 years for foeticide, saying she failed to seek medical help when the baby was born alive. She was sentenced to 30 years on the neglect charge, with the final 10 years suspended, and ordered to serve a concurrent six-year sentence on the foeticide conviction.
Patel has indicated she plans to appeal.
Other women have been charged with foeticide for attempting to end their own pregnancies, but none until now had been convicted and sentenced, Paltrow said.