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Woman convicted under Ind. feticide law released following resentencing

Indiana officials on Sept. 1 released from prison a woman whose conviction under Indiana's feticide law was overturned in July, Rewire reports (Mason Pieklo, Rewire, 9/1).

Background on fetal homicide law

Indiana's fetal homicide law prohibits "knowingly or intentionally" terminating a pregnancy with an aim other than delivering an infant alive or removing a nonviable fetus. The law, enacted in 1979, has an exception for abortion care provided in compliance with the state's laws on abortion.

At least 38 states have feticide laws. Abortion-rights supporters argue that such laws were designed to prosecute illegal abortion providers, not pregnant women. Jill Adams, executive director of the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, said the Indiana lawsuit marked the first instance of a state feticide law being used against a woman explicitly because of an "alleged self-induced abortion."

Case background

The woman, Purvi Patel, was arrested in July 2013 after she presented at a hospital to seek treatment for profuse bleeding resulting from the termination of a pregnancy. According to court records, Patel had ingested abortion-inducing drugs that she had obtained online. After ingesting the drugs, Patel discarded the remains of her pregnancy. Court documents show that when Patel presented at the hospital, she told doctors that she had delivered a stillborn infant.

The state alleged that Patel was 25 weeks into her pregnancy when she tried to self-induce an abortion and contended that she delivered a viable infant requiring immediate medical care.

Last year, Patel was convicted of neglect of a dependent resulting in death, as well as a charge under the feticide law for terminating her pregnancy. Although neither conviction carries a mandatory prison sentence, Judge Elizabeth Hurley sentenced Patel to six years on the feticide charge and to 30 years on the neglect charge, with 10 years of the latter charge suspended. Patel was serving the sentences concurrently.

In July, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the feticide conviction, ruling that that the feticide statute was not meant to be used against a pregnant woman who terminates her own pregnancy. While the appeals court acknowledged Patel's argument that the neglect conviction conflicted with the feticide conviction, it dismissed Patel's argument that the neglect conviction should be overturned (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/25). The state's Attorney General Office opted not to appeal the decision.

Latest developments

In a ruling on Wednesday, Hurley called for Patel's immediate release from prison after she resentenced Patel to a time shorter than Patel has already served.

According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, Hurley gave Patel a sentence of 18 months under the neglect charge and said she would not have to be on parole following her release (AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/31).