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Indiana v. Purvi Patel

Despite extensive public outcry, including petitions to the prosecutor, Purvi Patel was charged with feticide and ͞negligent treatment of a child͟ in Indiana in 2013-14 for allegedly seeking to terminate her pregnancy at home with medication. The media initially framed this case as one in which a woman gave birth to a baby and abandoned it. As a result of Pregnancy Justice’s work, it was reframed as a case about the overreach of the government in criminalizing pregnant women (particularly women of color) who seek to terminate a pregnancy. It also exposed the fact that the anti-abortion movement’s claims of protecting, not harming, pregnant women are false. Pregnancy Justice was involved in the case from the beginning, and our original commentaries about the case (below) received extensive attention, had significant influence, and provided a way to put anti-abortion organizations on the defensive.

Pregnancy Justice worked with Ms. Patel’s criminal defense counsel to ensure that constitutional arguments were raised in a motion to dismiss, and filed an amicus brief in the trial court with more than 25 organizations signing on, detailing the harms to public health, women, and families when states respond to abortion with punishment and incarceration. Unfortunately, the trial court refused to accept Pregnancy Justice’s brief, denied Ms. Patel’s motion to dismiss, and proceeded to trial in January 2015. Ms. Patel was convicted of both charges and sentenced to 41 years in prison, of which she would have to serve 20.

Ms. Patel filed her appeal in October 2015. Pregnancy Justice led amicus efforts at the Indiana Court of Appeals, writing our own amicus brief and helping to coordinate numerous others. Pregnancy Justice filed an amicus brief on behalf of 28 organizations and experts in public health, health advocacy, and bioethics. We continued working with local and national allies, including holding a series of community forums in Indiana to build opposition to Ms. Patel’s conviction and sentence, which were well-attended by students, leaders in the local South Asian community, local government officials, local activists, and other community members; conducting social media advocacy; packing the courtroom; and holding informational coalition calls along with that National Asian Pacific American Women’s Form for more than 65 organizations. On July 22, 2016, the appellate court issued a favorable decision. The State did not appeal further and Ms. Patel was freed.