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Op-Ed Examines 'Systematic Failures' of U.S. Reproductive Health Care Behind Feticide Cases

May 12, 2015 — The case of Purvi Patel has spurred "the expected anti-abortion and pro-choice debates," but it also can be used to evaluate women's access to reproductive health in the U.S., columnist Sharmila Rudrappa writes in an American Prospect/Public Voices Fellowship opinion piece.

Rudrappa explains that Patel, "a 33-year old Indian immigrant from South Bend, Indiana, was charged with feticide and child neglect" based on allegations that she "attempted to terminate her second-trimester pregnancy with illegal pharmaceutical abortifacients" and disposed of the fetus before seeking medical care.

Rudrappa notes that while some have argued that Patel could have gotten an abortion during the first trimester of her pregnancy, the procedure "is not easily accessible in Indiana," which as of 2011 had "just 12 providers." Further, in Indiana, "[h]ealth plans ... and public funding cover abortions only if the woman's life is endangered, or she is a victim of rape or incest," Rudrappa writes, adding that women seeking abortion in the state also "must receive state-directed, in-person counseling including an ultrasound," be offered a choice to view the ultrasound and "wait 18 hours before any procedures can be initiated."

Further, Rudrappa questions how Patel's situation might "have been different if she had access to easily available, affordable reproductive care" beyond "simply abortion provision." She continues, "What if women and children had the right to broad sex education including contraception and not just abstinence; deeper understanding about pregnancies; comprehensive, easily accessible and high quality prenatal care; equally excellent and accessible post-natal care; and, emotional support for mother and child?"

Rudrappa cites the U.S.'s comparatively high rates of infant mortality and maternal death, adding, "What does it mean to punish women for ... their individual perceived moral failures, while remaining silent on the systemic failures that result in lack of support for women in their pregnancies, and after childbirth?" (Rudrappa, American Prospect, 5/10).