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Convicted For Abortion: Purvi Patel’s Case Spells A Huge Setback For Women’s Rights

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By Sushmita Sihwag:

Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indian American, has become the first woman in the U.S. to be convicted on charges of foeticide and neglect of a dependent. Patel, who comes from a conservative Hindu family, confessed in an interview to a detective that she did not want her parents to find out about the pregnancy which was the result of an affair with a co-worker.

purvi patel

How It Happened?
In July 2013, Patel went to St. Joseph Regional Medical Centre’s emergency room seeking help as she was bleeding profusely and had a protruding umbilical cord. Sensing something was wrong, the doctors called the police as they are obligated to do so according to state norms, and that’s when she confessed that she had had a miscarriage and abandoned her stillborn foetus in a dumpster.

The Faulty Trial And Judgment
The police interrogated Patel and went through the text messages on her phone which suggested that she had been taking illegal abortion pills. This became the basis of the prosecution’s argument that she had tried to terminate her pregnancy and accused her of feticide, even though the toxicology report found no trace of such drugs in her system.

The second charge that the prosecutors pursued was that of neglect of a dependent, as they believed that she had delivered a live baby. Joseph Prahlow, the pathologist for the prosecution, testified that the child was born alive as it passed the “lung float test,” a test from the 17th century which states that if the baby’s lungs float in water, it was born alive. However, the test’s accuracy has been contested and it is not a scientifically valid method to be used in dealing with a doubtful case as this one.

The prosecutors also alleged that she was around 25 weeks pregnant at the time she gave birth and the baby could have easily survived. However, Shaku Teas, the defence’s pathologist, testified that the baby was at 23-24 weeks gestation and didn’t have developed lungs, and therefore, wasn’t viable.

Patel said that she had panicked when she saw the fetus in the pool of blood during the miscarriage and didn’t know what to do. “I assumed because the baby was dead there was nothing to do. I’ve never been in this situation. I’ve never been pregnant before,” reported South Bend Tribune, quoting her from a police interview.

On 30th March 2015, Patel was sentenced to 30 years in jail for neglect, with the final 10 suspended and six concurrent years for the feticide charge. The judgment came after a jury found her guilty in February on both the accounts made by the prosecutors. The logical fallacy in the judgment, argue activists, is that the state cannot charge her with both killing her unborn fetus and abandoning a live one simultaneously.

St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Hurley said, “The crux of this case lies in the choices you made after you delivered that baby and you realized the outcome was different than you hoped it would be or expected it would be.

A Setback For Progressive Women’s Rights
The sentencing in Miss. Patel’s case comes as a huge setback for women’s rights, especially in a country which is one of the most progressive nations in the world. The message it sends out to the more conservative ones is that women are nothing but child-bearing machines and have no right to make decisions concerning their own bodies.

“Indiana should not join these countries where young pregnant girls are committing suicide at alarming rates; pregnant women are avoiding medical care for fear that any problem in pregnancy will be reported to law enforcement; and mothers are not only going to jail for having abortions, but also for suffering miscarriages and stillbirths,” said Sara Ainsworth, director of legal advocacy at National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPM).

The judgment will definitely discourage pregnant women who suffer from miscarriages or wish to terminate their pregnancies from seeking medical help. The law, which was intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn foetuses from a third party hurting them, has been in turn used to convict a woman herself allegedly trying to terminate her pregnancy.

The Culture Factor
The main reason for Patel’s desperation to get rid of her pregnancy did not find much coverage in the American media. She mentioned that her parents were conservative and did not want them finding out about it, as sex outside of marriage is still considered a taboo in the Indian culture. Had it not been the case, she wouldn’t have acted so stealthily and called 911 after the unexpected delivery, rather than taking matters into her own hands.

With a growing number of awareness campaigns demanding women’s rights for making their own life choices, it is time that we openly discussed issues concerning their reproductive and mental health. Many Indians are still hesitant in discussing these matters with their parents. What is needed to overcome the “generation gap” and conflicting views regarding sexual choices is increased communication between both sides.

It is extremely tragic that Patel had to face such harsh consequences for her ill-thought choices of dealing with the situation. But on the bright side, this shall serve as a wakeup call to thousands of young people and their parents around the globe in dealing more cautiously and sensibly with a situation like that of Patel’s.

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  1. ABs

    The Laws in Indiana are unjust, and discriminatory, because they are founded on Christianity.

  2. Ritesh Anan

    “Have one’s cake and eat it too” – Cliché to have in one’s possession something and be able to use or exploit it; to have it both ways (SOURCE- thefreedictionary.com)

    ABORTION LAWS IN THE STATE OF INDIANA
    Code Section 16-34-1-1 et seq.

    Statutory Definition of Illegal Abortion —-Any abortion not as provided for in 1st or 2nd trimester. Partial Birth Abortion: A person may not lawfully or knowingly perform a partial birth abortion unless a physician reasonably believes it is necessary to save the life of the mother and that no other medical procedure is sufficient

    Statutory Definition of Legal Abortion—- During first trimester with mother’s consent based on physician’s professional and medical judgement; after first trimester but before viability, permissible with mother’s consent and if performed in hospital or surgical center; after viability, procedure necessary to prevent impairment of life, health of mother and performed in hospital with premature birth care unit and with 2nd physician present.

    Penalty for Unlawful Abortion —–Class C felony; Statute, Class A misdemeanor for not meeting proper consent requirements.

    ———————————-xxxxxxxxxxxxx———————————

    Second line of the article – “Patel, who comes from a conservative HINDU family, confessed in an interview to a detective that she DID NOT want her parents to find out about the pregnancy which was the result of an affair with a co-worker.”

    ———————————-xxxxxxxxxxxxx———————————

    While making an argument one really can’t have both side of the coins.

    33-year old, an affair with a “co-worker” (the lady is employed, basically an independent women who has the right to make CHOICES in a “country which is one of the most progressive nations in the world”) – Someone who is mature, independent and doesn’t have much to fear about (relatively to women in other countries) because she resides in a nation that is considered one of the most progressive, if not the most progressive.

    ISN’T IT CALLED WOMEN’S RIGHTS (PROGRESS) IF SHE FIGHTS FOR WHAT SHE BELIEVES IS RIGHT. MOREOVER, WHEN THE WOMEN IN QUESTION IS SOMEONE DESCRIBED ABOVE?
    OR
    DOES IT MEAN THAT WHEN S#!T HITS THE FAN GOING, BLAMING IT IN ON A VARIETY OF THINGS THAT COULD HAVE EASILY BEEN FOUGHT AGAINST/REBELLED AGAINST ESPECIALLY WHEN THE SYSTEM ONE LIVES IN NOT ONLY ALLOWS, BUT ALSO SUPPORTS IT?
    ———————————————XXXXXXXXXXXX—————————————————-

    When does a lady knows/comes to know she is pregnant? Search for it.

    What is the LAW, and I repeat the LAW in the state of Indiana for legal abortion? Read it above, dig deeper.

    IS ABORTION WRONG? NO, NOT BY ANY STANDARDS AS LONG AS SOMEONE DOESN’T WANT TO BRING A LIFE INTO THIS WORLD.

    WHAT IS WRONG? “Killing someone” regardless of whether one was responsible for bringing that “someone” into life in this world.

    THINK OF A SCENARIO –
    YOU ARE DRIVING ON THE ROAD IN YOUR PARENT’S CAR “WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION”, SUDDENLY WITHOUT YOU MAKING AN ERROR IN JUDGMENT OR ANY MISTAKE AN ACCIDENT HAPPENS AND ALTHOUGH YOU DON’T GET HURT MUCH YOU SEE THAT THE OTHER DRIVER IS INJURED REAL BAD AND MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD. WHAT DO YOU DO?

    1) YOU CALL THE POLICE/ MEDICS IMMEDIATELY, HELP THE OTHER DRIVER OUT REGARDLESS OF THE CONSEQUENCE YOU FACE LATER.

    2) YOU RUN AWAY AND HOPE NO ONE FINDS OUT ANYTHING.

    ——————————-XXXXXXXXXXXX———————————————

    Loitering is a punishable offence in Singapore, UAE etc. but not in several other jurisdictions in the world. Since it is the “law” there regardless of whether it is a ‘good law’ or a ‘bad law” whosoever is under that jurisdiction needs to follow it. Breaking the law and then blaming a jurisdiction for having such laws is not rational, especially when one is independent, mature and has the choice to live in some other jurisdiction where they feel the law is according to one’s own preference.

    One can argue as to whether the amount of punishment given was adequate or harsh, but breaking law and arguing in favor of breaking it is a completely different thing.

    —————————-xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx—————————————-
    It isn’t the fault of one gender that “the creator” didn’t gave it womb or made it an “equal partner” in bringing life into this world. Moreover, it is the personal choice of an individual belonging to the other gender as to whether one sees the unique “power” bestowed on them to bring life into this world as just that ( a power) or as partial treatment, unfairness.

    “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” – Spiderman 🙂

    I will rest my case there.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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