When you make abortion difficult or expensive and when you come from a family or culture that stigmatizes it and sex, you are bound to experience hardship. It’s simply a recipe for disaster – which Purvi Patel, a woman from Indiana, recently experienced firsthand.
In July 2013, Ms. Patel went to an emergency room in South Bend, Indiana. She was bleeding heavily and needed medical attention. She claimed she’d had a miscarriage. But where was the fetus? In a dumpster.
Someone contacted the police and what should have been a straightforward case of a woman seeking much-needed medical attention turned into a crime. The police found her fetus in the dumpster. Shortly thereafter, they arrested her for neglecting a dependent and feticide. In March 2015, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Why? Because she had induced an abortion and then gone to get medical help.
Ms. Patel is the first woman in the United States to be sentenced based on a feticide law, though she is not the first woman to be charged. In fact, hundreds of women have been arrested based on the feticide law, though none have been punished because of it. Usually, the charges are dropped or the women are punished for something else – possession of narcotics, purchasing medication without a prescription, etc.
It’s also worth noting that the feticide laws that have targeted these women were supposedly put in place to help them – the common refrain of anti-choice lawmakers and organizations. Pro-life advocates would have you believe, “We do not think women should be criminalized,” and that these laws would only affect people forcing a woman to have an abortion against her will (a very rare scenario), and yet they’re only used against women that have either intentionally or unintentionally ended their pregnancies. Try to commit suicide and lose the child but live? Expect to be arrested. End your pregnancy well within the first trimester outside of a legal clinic? Expect to be arrested. Your husband claims that your miscarriage was actually a deliberate abortion? Expect to be arrested.
And if, as Ms. Patel did, you have an aggressive, pro-life prosecutor or unsympathetic judges and juries, you can expect to feel the full weight of the law. For doing what’s best for your body and your health, you can be locked away for over 40 years. For trying not to anger your family for having sex outside of marriage or being unable to care for a child, you can lose half of your life.
When we bar women from shame-free sex, when we limit their access to low-cost contraceptives, when we make getting an abortion difficult, when we treat women like nothing more than baby-makers, and when we pass laws that prevent them from having control over their bodies, we create situations like these. Women should not be punished for having abortions. Abortionists should not be punished for doing their jobs. Both of these are legal in the United States. But more than that, we should stop taking away women’s choices and backing them into a corner. We should discuss abortion openly and without judgment in our communities. We should educate people on safer sex and contraceptives. We should quit demonizing women for doing what’s best for themselves, and we should take the government out of our uteruses. It is not their place to tell us what to do with our bodies. It is not their place to judge us. And it is not their place to take away our lives for something that doesn’t yet have one.
* Image of Purvi Patel taken from http://www.democracynow.org/2015/4/2/20_years_in_prison_for_miscarrying