Purvi Patel and Savita Halappanavar, two pregnant women were trapped in a difficult situation as they desperately needed abortions, but the support system established to help them victimised them instead.
In 2015, Purvi from Mishawaka Indiana was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the crime of foeticide and neglect of a dependent. She was also found guilty of an induced illegal abortion, making it the first time a woman in the US was convicted and imprisoned for foeticide. Patel’s lawyers have filed an appeal.
As the case goes, Patel went to hospital in 2013 seeking medical help for heavy bleeding. She later admitted to aborting her foetus with pills bought online. Under Indiana laws however, while these pills are available on prescription, it is illegal to buy them online. More serious charges of foeticide were made against her after she admitted she dumped the stillborn foetus in the garbage. A doctor at the hospital retrieved the foetus and called the police. Criminal proceedings followed which is where Pathologists from the Defence and Prosecution differed.
The Defence determined that the foetus at some 23 weeks was stillborn, but this was overruled as the jury went with the Prosecution pathologists view that the foetus had been closer to 30 weeks i.e. it reached a stage that would allow it to live outside the uterus, as determined by a lung float test, which is now discredited by health specialists and forensic experts, who believe that it can be used only to corroborate other findings. Patel’s appeal is now against both the foeticide charge, and also the use of the lung float test.
Sadly the laws claim they are intended to protect women, but in effect women find themselves becoming victims.
In the case of Savita Halappanavar in Galway Ireland, the fact that the laws violated the European Court of Human Rights guidelines led to Savita dying of septicemia that followed a miscarriage at 17 weeks. Though the doctors knew she might miscarry, they refused to carry out an abortion as they detected a foetal heartbeat. An inquiry committee found that Halappanavar did not receive proper medical attention and a series of bad decisions led to her tragic death.
Meanwhile an Indiana court readies itself to hear Patel’s appeal, and advocacy groups said Indiana’s law on foeticide is inherently discriminatory, its targets being more often Asian Americans. Other US states have also targeted vulnerable populations such as poor, dependent women or those in need of rehabilitation.