A judge has ruled that Purvi Patel, who was sentenced to 20 years for inducing her own abortion, should be immediately freed from prison.
Patel made headlines in April 2015 when she became the first US woman to be sent to prison for this crime. However, a few months ago, an Indiana appeals court overturned her feticide conviction – and 20-year prison sentence – on a charge of killing her premature infant by taking abortion-inducing drugs.
They ruled that the law of feticide was not designed to “prosecute women for their own abortions”, but for prosecuting people who attacked pregnant women.
“Given that the legislature decriminalised abortion with respect to pregnant women only two years before it enacted the feticide statute, we conclude that the legislature never intended the feticide statute to apply to pregnant women,” the decision declared.
“Therefore, we vacate Patel’s feticide conviction.”
St Joseph superior court judge Elizabeth Hurley was unable to completely overturn Patel’s sentence for neglect of a dependent, however, as forensics experts were unable to conclude whether or not the baby had been stillborn, as Patel claimed, or died within the first few seconds of its life.
Instead, Hurley reduced the sentence of 18 months for neglect of a dependent, which means that the 35-year-old has already served longer than this in prison. The judge ordered that Patel be freed immediately from prison, and added that she does not need to be placed on parole.
However Yamani Hernandez, the director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, has since criticised the appeals court’s decision.
“The Indiana court of appeals… ultimately failed Patel,” she told local press, referring to the fact that they had not completely overturned the child neglect charges.
“People of colour are bearing the brunt of unscientific laws and misplaced outrage against abortion, which is blurring into the territory of miscarriage and putting any pregnant person at risk of prosecution and incarceration.
“It needs to stop, and the decision didn’t go far enough to restore full justice for Purvi Patel.”
Meanwhile Patel’s lawyer, Lawrence Marshall, told a local news outlet that Patel is “very, very joyful that this day has come,” but that she now needs privacy so that she can focus on rebuilding her life.
“For right now, she needs to recover from what is obviously a traumatic several years,” he added. “She has to take her life and try to make something meaningful out of all the wreckage that got her here.”
The decision didn’t go far enough to restore full justice for Purvi Patel.
According to prosecutors, Patel was 32 when she bought abortion-inducing drugs online to terminate the pregnancy.
She had done this in a bid to keep it a secret from her parents, both of whom were strict Hindus and had taught her the principle of ‘no sex before marriage’.
After delivering the baby, her lawyers said that Patel went into a state of shock. She hid the body in a rubbish bin behind her family’s restaurant in Granger, USA, before visiting her local hospital’s emergency room to seek treatment for profuse bleeding from her vagina.
At first, she denied that she had recently given birth, but later told medical staff that she had delivered a stillborn child, and informed them where she had placed the body.
Doctors called the police, who found the remains and charged her with two felony accounts, leading to her arrest in late July 2013.
Images: iStock, official police mugshot