Court of Appeals dismisses feticide conviction for Indiana woman found guilty of taking abortion drugs

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FILE - In this March 30, 2015 file photo, Purvi Patel is taken into custody after being sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent on at the St. Joseph County Courthouse in South Bend, Ind. Attorneys for Patel will urge the Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday, May 23, 2016 to reverse her 2015 convictions on charges of feticide and neglect of a dependent resulting in death. The state's attorney general's office will defend the northern Indiana jury's decision. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

The Indiana Court of Appeals vacated the conviction of an Indiana woman who was found guilty in 2015 of killing the premature infant she delivered after ingesting aborting-inducing drugs.

Purvi Patel, 35, was convicted on charges of feticide and neglect of a dependent resulting in death. She was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison.

Last month, attorneys for Patel argued the feticide conviction did not fulfill the requirements that the legislation intended. At issue was Indiana’s feticide statute, which the defense says was “passed to protect pregnant women from violence” that could harm their developing fetus, not to prosecute women for their own abortions.

The state argued that law “is not limited to third-party actors” and can apply to pregnant women.

The Indiana Court of Appeals vacated both charges against Patel. Court records filed today state:

As for the feticide conviction, we hold that the legislature did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to illegal abortions or to be used to prosecute women for their own abortions. Therefore, we vacate Patel’s feticide conviction.

As for the neglect conviction, we hold that the State presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Patel was subjectively aware that the baby was born alive and that she knowingly endangered the baby by failing to provide medical care, but that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the baby would not have died but for Patel’s failure to provide medical care. Therefore, we vacate Patel’s class A felony conviction and remand to the trial court with instructions to enter judgment of conviction for class D felony neglect of a dependent and resentence her accordingly.

Patel was arrested in July 2013 after checking in to a hospital for profuse bleeding. She had just delivered a 1 ½-pound boy and put his body in a trash bin behind her family’s restaurant. Court records show Patel purchased abortion-inducing drugs online through a pharmacy in Hong Kong, took those drugs and delivered a premature baby in her home bathroom.

Patel lived with her parents and grandparents and feared that her family would discover she had been impregnated by a married man she was involved with, court documents state.
Two dozen women’s advocacy groups, as well as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, all have filed friend-of-the-court briefs siding with Patel.

At least 38 states have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the Patel case was the first time a state feticide law has been used against a woman specifically because of “an alleged self-induced abortion,” said Jill E. Adams, executive director of the abortion rights advocacy group Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice.

AP contributed to this report

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