During Palm Sunday Mass this morning, I focused my prayers on Purvi Patel. Purvi is a 33-year-old Indiana woman who faces up to 70 years in prison for a delivering a stillbirth in her home. Her sentencing hearing will be held on Monday, March 30 in South Bend.
Purvi experienced a sudden pregnancy loss during the summer of 2013. While in the bathroom of the home she shares with her parents, Purvi delivered a stillborn fetus, which she testified was dead at the time of birth. She described the pregnancy loss as a quick rush of blood on her bathroom floor. The gestational age of the fetus was disputed, and there’s still no clear consensus, though some doctors claim she was about 24 weeks pregnant. (Purvi also didn’t know how far along she was, and was hiding the pregnancy from her parents, who are strict Hindus.)
From The Guardian:
Court documents show that Patel then went to the St Joseph hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana, bleeding from her vagina. She at first denied having given birth, but told medical staff later that she had delivered a still-born child at
home, and had placed the body in a dumpster.
Kathrine Jack, an attorney who has followed the case closely, said
that the verdict “sends a message to pregnant women in Indiana that if
they have still-birth, or miscarriage, or in some cases seek an abortion
they could be criminally investigating and charged for fetucide.”
“I’m afraid pregnant women in Indiana are going to fear going to the doctor”, she added.
The crux of the case lay in whether Patel’s baby was breathing or
still-born at the moment of birth. A medical witness for the defence
reportedly testified that, at an estimated 24 weeks, the fetus was not
viable, and could not have survived outside the womb.
Prosecutors alleged Purvi purposely terminated her pregnancy with abortion-inducing drugs that she purchased online. The only evidence they had were text messages she sent to a friend a month before the pregnancy loss; the messages stated that Purvi was going to buy abortion-inducing drugs from Hong Kong. However, there’s no evidence that Purvi 1) purchased these drugs 2) that these drugs weren’t counterfeit (as they can sometimes be) if she did buy them and 3) that she actually took the drugs. (On that third point, there was no medical evidence that she used abortion-inducing drugs to cause the pregnancy loss.)
Still, Purvi has been convicted of both feticide and felony neglect. Essentially, she is convicted for enduring a stillbirth, and penalized for seeking medical care at a hospital following the birth. As the National Advocates for Pregnant Women said when Purvi’s conviction came down in February:
This case and the verdict should send shockwaves through everyone who has an
opinion about the right to choose abortion. So-called “pro-life”
organizations and leaders have long claimed that the purpose of
anti-abortion and feticide laws is to protect, not punish, women. For
example, Americans United for Life
argues that “pro-life legislators and pro-life leaders do not support
the prosecution of women” and claims that “if Roe is overruled, no woman
would be prosecuted for self-abortion.” However, a study published in 2013 documented that measures such as feticide laws are already being used to achieve such results.
So today, Palm Sunday, I am praying for Purvi. As a Catholic, I know that we must be here for those most vulnerable. Pregnant people in these situations need medical care, not imprisonment, nor can we set this precedent. Today, I thought of the words we now say in Mass — “it is right and just.”
How is punishing women for receiving medical care after a stillbirth, a miscarriage, or even a self-induced abortion “right and just”? And how would Jesus, who welcomed everyone at his table, treat Purvi Patel if this indeed were his final days on Earth?