Farm Animals 1 Women 0 in Arizona. Woman sentenced to decades in jail for stillbirth in Indiana

30 Mar 2015 06:06 am
Posted by: Donna

Bad day for women’s rights on Monday.

People in the Arizona animal rights community are happy, and rightly so, with Governor Doug Ducey’s veto of a bill straight out of Big Ag that would loosen animal cruelty restrictions. Yay for farm animals! Boo for women, though, since Ducey also signed SB1318, that idiotic pile of misogynistic garbage that turns women’s own damn money into “taxpayer dollars” and requires doctors to inform women about some hooey about “abortion reversal” concocted by anti-choicers.


Meanwhile, our right wing friends in Indiana continue to be horrible. On Monday, Purvi Patel, an Indian immigrant, was sentenced to 20 years in prison (a 41 year term, served concurrently). She had been convicted of both feticide and infanticide, charges which many believed to be contradictory. I’ll let Dr. Jen Gunter explain how it went down:

For those unfamiliar with the case Ms. Patel received no prenatal care and was an unknown gestational age when she delivered at home. She thought she had delivered very prematurely and that the baby was stillborn. Not knowing what to do, ill from bleeding, and psychologically affected from delivering unassisted in her bathroom she deposited what she thought was a pre-viable stillbirth in the trash.

Ms. Patel continued bleeding and so sought care at the hospital and what happened next should frighten everyone. After determining she had been pregnant the medical staff called the police and one of the OB/GYNs, Dr. McGuire, abandoned her to search with the police. Because that’s what doctors do, leave patients and play junior CSI. When the body was found Dr. McGuire told the officers he believed the fetus was 30 weeks, even though he had no qualification to make that determination. These actions starting the ball rolling as a potential homicide.

Dr. McGuire, a pro-life OB/GYN, was of course wrong. The autopsy indicted 23-24 weeks which is borderline viability and a gestational age when parents can make the decision to resuscitate on not. That didn’t matter to the prosecutor who either thought 6-7 weeks made little difference (it make all the difference in the world) or didn’t care. The fact that there was no proof Ms. Patel purchased or took abortifacients also didn’t matter.

Legal abuses aside, let’s focus on the behavior of Ms. Patel’s medical team. They simply handed over her records to the police while she was in surgery. When Ms, Patel awoke from her anesthetic she was almost immediately confronted by the police. She had lost a significant amount of blood and was incapacitated enough that she could not have driven a car.

I’ve had the police show up several times to interview inpatients and when I felt the patient wasn’t capable I told the police they would have to wait or come back or discuss the matter with the hospital’s legal counsel. My authority to make this determination was never questioned. If I wouldn’t let my patient drive a car then she isn’t medically fit to speak with the police. I can’t even fathom turning over medical records. That’s why there are court orders and hospital lawyers and medical correspondence departments.

But what of HIPAA, the medical privacy law? How can a doctor or nurse call the police, divulge your medical history, and then simply turn your records over without repercussions? HIPAA is civil so the best a wronged patient can do is sue the hospital and the personnel involved. You might win, but it’s a bit of a hollow victory if you’re now facing 20 years in jail.

Clearly at least some of the people treating Patel were more eager to get the prosecution underway than to care for the patient. The local coverage of the story, from what I understand, focused luridly on “she threw the baby in a dumpster!” and Patel’s alleged lack of enthusiasm for the pregnancy. You can see how little sympathy there is for Patel in the comments to this article. It’s not hard to understand how anti-choicers have been so successful from reading them.

The charges themselves were contradictory and based on flimsy evidence.

Prosecutors based the feticide charge on text messages police found on Patel’s phone. They say the messages show she talked to a friend about buying abortion drugs online. But the toxicologist didn’t find any trace of those drugs in her body or in the fetus’ body. And police found no evidence that she actually purchased the drugs.

Meanwhile, the prosecution still pursued the original charge of child neglect, which would mean the fetus had been born alive. Prosecutors tried to prove that the fetus took a breath after birth. They hired a local pathologist who tried to test this by placing the fetal lungs in water to see if they floated. Patel’s defense attorney argued this kind of test is scientifically bogus, and the fetus was too young to survive on its own.

The float test was antiquated nonsense, since gas typically inflates the tissues of corpses, which is why drowning victims float to the top of bodies of water after a few days unless they’ve been weighted down. The charge of feticide relies on hearsay and the thought crime of not enthusiastically welcoming pregnancy. But it was enough for the jury to convict on both counts because the real trial conducted against Patel was about whether or not she was a “good” woman. This speaks to why the problem of anti-choice laws isn’t the anti-choicers themselves, who are indeed scary people getting themselves into all kinds of positions of authority. The problem is everyone else. People who aren’t even invested in misogyny are far too willing to give misogynists every benefit of the doubt and women none.

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