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Commentaries: Ind. 'Feticide' Law 'Turn[s] Pregnant Women Into Criminals,' Is Not 'An Outlier'

Commentaries: Ind. 'Feticide' Law 'Turn[s] Pregnant Women Into Criminals,' Is Not 'An Outlier'

April 2, 2015 — Indiana's "feticide" law "has been used to turn pregnant women into criminals," and "[t]hose who care about the rights of pregnant women should be deeply concerned," activist and commentator Sally Kohn writes for CNN.

Kohn shares the story of Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman who was found guilty of "feticide" and "felony neglect of a dependent" -- two "decidedly contradictory" charges -- and sentenced this week to 20 years in prison. Kohn explains that Patel was charged after she "told doctors that she had a miscarriage and delivered a stillborn fetus, which [Patel] said, she placed in a bag in a dumpster." The feticide charge "would require Patel to have terminated a pregnancy while the fetus was still in the womb," while the "felony neglect of a dependent" charge "requires delivering a live fetus and then neglecting it."

Looking at supporters' justifications for feticide laws, Kohn challenges conservatives' notion that "women are 'the victims of abortion' and that laws such as the Indiana 'feticide' measure are intended to 'protect' them." Noting another feticide case, Kohn writes that "both cases presented troubled pregnant women who needed help from medical authorities and their government."

Kohn continues, "New anti-choice restrictions and prosecutions won't change the fact that women will sometimes choose to terminate their pregnancies." She argues that laws such as Indiana's "make women hide, avoid medical attention and put their lives at even greater risk."

She concludes, "We should all appeal to logic and sanity and compassion and repeal these horrid anti-choice, anti-pregnancy laws" (Kohn, CNN, 3/31).

Bazelon: Patel Case 'Part of a Pattern'

While "[i]t's tempting to simply look away from Patel's case on the grounds that it is an outlier, however tragic," the case "demonstrates how unsparing the criminal-justice system can be to women whose pregnancies end in (or otherwise involve) suspicious circumstances," Emily Bazelon writes in the New York Times Magazine.

Noting that the feticide charge was based on the allegation that Patel "illegally induc[ed] her own abortion," Bazelon writes that it "is the first case [she] can find in which a state-level feticide law has been successfully used to punish a woman for trying to have an abortion." However, roughly "38 states have fetal homicide laws in place" and prosecutions against pregnant or recently pregnant women "are growing more frequent," she adds.

Bazelon also points to a study that found "hundreds of arrests of women for actions taken during their own pregnancies that the authorities deemed harmful to their fetuses." Many of the women who have been prosecuted for allegedly harming their fetus "took drugs ... during pregnancy," while some of the women had "refused cesarean sections their doctors recommended," she explains. More recent cases involve "women who took abortion pills they ordered online," Bazelon writes.

Regarding the Patel case, Bazelon also notes that "the evidence that [the fetus] was born alive is sharply contested." She explains, "The pathologist who testified for the defense ... said the baby was stillborn," while "the pathologist for the prosecution ... testified that the fetus... was born alive."

While "Patel's case stands out ... it is also part of a pattern," she argues (Bazelon, New York Times Magazine, 4/1).