Indiana Woman’s Feticide Conviction Overturned

     INDIANAPOLIS (CN) — A woman who threw her premature baby in a dumpster after taking abortion pills to end her pregnancy is not guilty of committing feticide, an Indiana appeals court ruled.
     Purvi Patel had been serving a 20-year sentence for both feticide and an additional neglect of a dependent charge. The charges stemmed from her June 2013 attempt to self-induce an abortion in her home using mail-order prescription pills from a Hong Kong-based online pharmacy, according to court records.
     Though Patel apparently believed she was only terminating her pregnancy, she actually delivered a live baby boy later estimated by doctors and a forensic pathologist to have been at 25 to 30 weeks gestation.
     The then-32-year-old had sought to end her pregnancy because it was the result of an affair with a married man, who she worked with at a South Bend-area Moe’s Southwest Grill owned by her parents, court records show.
     She wrote in a text message to a friend that “[m]y Fam would kill me [and] him” and “that she wanted her boyfriend and ‘the baby outta [her] life,'” according to evidence used in her criminal trial.
     After taking the abortion pills and placing the newborn fetus in a trash bag, Patel allegedly sought medical intervention after being “unable to remove ‘a piece of the [umbilical] cord hanging from [her]'” and continuously “bleeding thru her clothes.”
     Police got involved after hospital staff realized that the woman had delivered a live baby, not a dead fetus. Patel admitted during questioning that she had given birth and then disposed of the “small little limpless” baby in a dumpster near her family’s restaurant.
     A forensic expert testified during her criminal trial that Patel had likely given birth to a “viable” baby and that the infant “had breathed after it was born.”
     His testimony helped a trial court decide that Patel “failed to provide any medical care to her baby immediately after its birth” and that she “knowingly terminated her pregnancy with the intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.” This resulted in her neglect of a dependent and feticide convictions, respectively.
     Patel challenged her feticide conviction on appeal, successfully arguing that legal precedent shows the Indiana Legislature did not intend the law to apply to illegal abortions.
     She claimed the law had never before been used against pregnant women, who were generally viewed in the eyes of the law as immune from prosecution for having illegal partial-birth abortions.
     The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed Friday, finding that lawmakers “did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to illegal abortions or to be used to prosecute women for their own abortion.”
     “Since the legislature enacted the feticide statute in 1979, it has been used to prosecute third parties who knowingly terminate pregnancies by using violence against the expectant mother without her consent,” Judge Terry Crone wrote in a 42-page ruling.
     A number of women’s rights organizations came out in support of Patel’s landmark cause, with such groups such as the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic offering advisement on her behalf to the court.
     The appeals court also ruled in Patel’s favor on her dependent-neglect charge, finding that Indiana prosecutors failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that her “significantly premature” baby would have survived but for her failure to obtain immediate medical treatment for him.
     “The state must prove that the defendant’s conduct was a proximate cause of the victim’s injury or death,” Crone wrote.
     The Indiana Court of Appeals did, however, side with the state in rejecting Patel’s contention that prosecutor failed to prove during trial that she put her baby in danger by not seeking medical treatment immediately after his birth.
     Accepting that argument would require the court to reweigh evidence used in her trial, which Judge Crone cautioned is not a duty of an appeals court.
     Though the court vacated her feticide charge completely, her neglect of a dependent charge was merely downgraded from a Class A felony to a Class D felony. The ruling concluded with an order sending her new lesser crime back for resentencing.

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