Indiana Court of Appeals Rules that Legislature Did Not Intend to Punish Women Who Have Abortions
Patel’s Conviction for Neglect of a Dependent Modified, Reducing Her Sentence
On July 22, 2016, the Indiana Court of Appeals announced its decision to overturn the conviction of Purvi Patel for the crime of feticide. Patel was accused of attempting to have an abortion and was convicted of two crimes: feticide and neglect of a dependent. Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison. On appeal, a unanimous panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the feticide conviction as contrary to the purpose and clear legislative intent of the law. The Court, however, upheld the neglect of a dependent charge but found that while it was bound to accept the jury finding that the fetus had been born alive, the state had failed to prove that she caused the death of the newborn. As a result, the Court vacated her conviction for a Class A Felony, requiring that the judgment be modified to a Class D Felony with a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison.
Ms. Patel has already been incarcerated in the Indiana Women's Prison for 1 year and 4 months.
Lynn M. Paltrow, Executive Director of Pregnancy Justice, said "By overturning the feticide conviction and holding that it may not be misused to punish women who have abortions, the court reached a decision that respects the Indiana Legislature's clear intent, is consistent with decisions from sister states, and is in accord with widely held public opinion that women who have or who attempt to have abortions should not be put behind bars."
Pregnancy Justice Staff Attorney Lisa Sangoi added, "we are very concerned that any neglect charge was upheld, given the lack of actual evidence of a live birth or that Patel could have, but failed to, obtain medical care immediately following the delivery."
Pregnancy Justice along with 26 organizations and experts filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting Ms. Patel's appeal. Amici emphasized that they were not opposing criminal charges against people who give birth to live infants and harm them by withholding medical care. Pregnancy Justice's amicus brief with a full list of amici is available here. Four additional amicus briefs in support of Patel's appeal were also filed and are available here.