Purvi Patel is no poster child for abortion rights

Sonia Chopra
Sonia ChopraMay 23, 2016 | 19:18

Purvi Patel is no poster child for abortion rights

On Monday, attorneys for Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indian American woman - who made history by becoming the first woman in the US to be charged, convicted and sentenced for both foeticide and child neglect - will ask an appeals court to throw out the convictions that led to her 20-year prison sentence.

Patel’s attorneys will urge the panel of three judges at Indiana Court of Appeals to grant her freedom while the state’s attorney general’s office will defend the decision a jury made in their client’s 2015 conviction.


The problem with the case against Patel is that the charges have been contradictory. She was charged with both foeticide and child neglect. While foeticide applies to an already dead foetus, neglect can only apply to a living child.

I believe, like many, that Patel was wrongfully convicted and deserves both an appeal and freedom.

Activists and advocates have vocally condemned Patel's prosecution, calling it unfairly harsh.

The backstory

Patel was arrested in July 2013 after giving birth to a one-and-a-half pound infant and putting his body in a trash bin behind her family’s restaurant, following which she sought treatment at a local hospital for profuse bleeding.

Court records show Patel purchased abortion-inducing drugs online through a pharmacy in Hong Kong, took them while at home and delivered a premature baby in her bathroom. She then threw away the foetus, claim records.

The prosecution speculated that because Patel lived with her parents and grandparents, she was fearful and embarrassed of explaining her pregnancy to her family, which would mean she would have to confess to having an affair with a married co-worker.

They have emphasised the salacious details of Patel’s disposal of her foetus. Experts say that she was, perhaps, so deeply traumatised that she threw the foetus, which she says was dead, into a dumpster.


Media coverage has also focused on the sensational and tawdry detail that has both fascinated and enflamed public sentiment against Patel. They have gleefully reported what "Court documents say” as if the prosecution saying it makes it the truth.

Patel’s attorneys say that the case has been ruled by emotion and not logic from the beginning.

In his brief, one of Patel’s attorneys and Stanford law professor Lawrence C Marshall argues that “The State tells the story of a sinister woman who, knowing her pregnancy was far along and a live birth imminent, heartlessly endangered her baby by not going to the hospital before abortion drugs took effect. That woman is not Purvi Patel, and the State’s inflammatory portrayal is both unconnected to any issue before the Court and unfaithful to the record of actual events."

The state replied to the brief saying that the prosecutors were “not required to prove that an attempt to obtain medical care would have saved the baby's life, only that Defendant placed her baby in appreciable danger by not obtaining medical care for him.”

The oral arguments will start at 2pm and will be live-streamed.

The legal process will take its course and it will be months before the conclusion is announced.


I believe, like many, that Patel was wrongfully convicted and deserves both an appeal and freedom.

And while I find it empowering and reassuring that at least two dozen women’s advocacy groups, advocates and feminists are siding with Patel, I am deeply skeptical of the motives of some who have filed amicus briefs or friends of Patel to be in court. (For the record, anyone can file these but that does not mean that they are a part of the legal team at all.)

I have covered Patel's case from the beginning. I have been in touch with her attorney and with her strongest defender Rev Marie Siroky, a board member of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice.

Marshall has not given interviews and has requested that the media and others “proceed with dignity”.

Patel is an introverted, reserved person. Both her family and she have never ever spoken to the press. In fact, Patel has repeatedly refused all interview requests. She wants this appeal to be low key. She will not be appearing in court tomorrow.

Meanwhile, these advocates seem determined to seize the case as an opportunity to further their agenda on abortion rights. Advocates for the National Asian Pacific Americans Forum (NAPAWF) are sharing the event on their Facebook page and asking for followers to come to court to show support.

“Learn more about why Purvi Patel’s case matters for all women of colour”, they are posting on social media.

"Pregnant women’s rights are under attack," they scream at women. “You should expect police at your bedside if you seek help,” they are telling women. One of these women's organisations is getting a bus to take women to the courthouse free of cost.

Patel has never endorsed their causes or given them the permission to raise money for her cause. Yes, at one time, there was a fundraiser for her family because she was their sole bread winner, but it ended last year.

They are sensationalising and possibly damaging her case and hurting her personally by using her name and image.

For Patel, this is a tragedy of gigantic proportions. She has told her attorneys that the horrible, unexpected miscarriage that went tragically wrong was a nightmare, but a personal issue that she could have handled better. If she had carried the dead foetus to the hospital, it would be a very different story.

Tomorrow is only about Patel’s case and her appeal. Women advocates have to stop treating it like a circus. This is not a day for a field trip or a cheerleading rally.

Patel has never wanted the publicity. She has never wanted to be a poster child for abortion rights.

I think these advocates should respect her wishes, starting tomorrow.

Last updated: September 22, 2017 | 23:13
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