Why Indian-American woman's 20-year imprisonment for foeticide is being questioned

Why Indian-American woman's 20-year imprisonment for foeticide is being questioned
Why Indian-American woman's 20-year imprisonment for foeticide is being questioned
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The News Minute | March 31, 2015 | 03:59 pm IST

Washington: An Indian-American woman has been sentenced to 20 years in prison following her conviction last month for foeticide. A judge in South Bend, Indiana, announced the sentence on Monday, Public Radio International (PRI) online reported.

Purvi Patel, 33, comes from a family of Indian immigrants who settled in Granger, Indiana, a suburb of South Bend.

According to a NBC NEWS report, Patel is the first woman in the United States to be charged, convicted and sentenced on the charge of foeticide.

However, reproductive rights activists have been voicing their opposition to Patel's conviction. "What this conviction means is that anti-abortion laws will be used to punish pregnant woman," Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told NBC.

In July 2013, Patel showed up at the emergency room of St. Joseph Regional Medical Centre in the town of Mishawaka, bleeding heavily. Doctors quickly realised she’d lost a pregnancy and she confessed that she’d left the foetus in a dumpster outside Moe's Southwest Grill in Granger, a restaurant Patel's parents owned.

Police questioned Patel and searched her cellphone while she was in the hospital, which led them to a series of text messages the prosecution claimed made the case for Patel's illegal abortion and felony charges.

The prosecution claimed Patel, in those text messages, admitted to ordering drugs online to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. Patel allegedly ordered abortion-inducing drugs from Hong Kong, which caused her to have the child on the floor of her bathroom.

Patel has been accused of inducing an illegal abortion and then failing to care for her baby after it was born. According to a February 2015 report by Slate, the two charges "appeared to contradict each other."

If Patel had taken the pills and already killed her foetus in the womb, it was unlikely that she could do anything to save it after it was born. But as the Slate report points out, the jury found Patel guilty on both charges. 

The prosecution said that Patel tried killing the foetus in the womb and when she failed in her first attempt she did not take care of the baby when it was born and left it to die. (Read the Slate report for a detailed explanation.)

Another vital aspect of Patel's case, which is being questioned, is the “lung float test” or the “the hydrostatic test.” The test was conducted to see whether the foetus was born dead or alive.

The method includes placing the lungs of the foetus in a container of liquid. According to this theory, which was developed in the 17th century, if the lung floats, it establishes that the foetus had at least drawn one breath after it was born, and if the lung sinks it would mean that the baby was born dead, the Slate report points out.

However, this veracity of this method is not supported by all medical professionals. 

Gregory Davis, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky, told Slate, “It’s an absolutely discredited test. It boggles my mind that in the 21st century … this test is still being relied upon to determine whether a baby is born alive or dead.” (To know why a float test could yield inaccurate results read the Slate report.)

According to Patel's lawyers, she hails from a conservative Hindu family where sex outside marriage is frowned upon. Since her pregnancy was out of wedlock, Patel panicked when she realised she was in labor, states the NBC report. 

Deepa Iyer, an Activist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland's Asian American Studies Program told NBC that the only two women charged with infanticide are Asian American and it points out to the lack of basic health care facilities and counselling for women of color.

Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai faced foeticide charges two years ago in the state, and both cases highlight an emerging “gray area” for pregnant women within the US legal system.

At the sentencing, Patel's supporters wore purple and white and were joined by members of the 'Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and Apna Ghar', a Chicago-based group advocating Southeast Asian women’s rights. Patel’s defence is expected to file an appeal.

Photo courtesy- St Josephs police county

With inputs from IANS

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