Lynn Paltrow on the implications of the conviction of Purvi Patel.
The prosecution and verdict in this case demonstrate that, despite their claims to the contrary, the real result of the anti-abortion movement —if not the intended goal—is to punish women for terminating pregnancies.
The anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy goes beyond just limiting access to abortion. It also includes passing feticide laws that recognize fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as having a separate legal status and creates special penalties for causing them harm.1
As historian and legal scholar Reva B. Siegel has documented, many “pro-life” activists promote anti-abortion measures as “women-protective,” ensuring “women’s informed consent, women’s health, women’s welfare, and women’s freedom.”2 Feticide laws fall into this category: They are presented as a means of protecting both pregnant women and their “unborn” children, and they have overwhelmingly been introduced in the wake of violence against pregnant women. No Indiana law, including its feticide law, has ever been proposed and enacted that claimed it could or should be used as a basis for prosecuting and incarcerating women who have abortions. 3
And yet, that’s exactly what happened.
The feticide charge was based on the claim that Patel “did knowingly terminate a human pregnancy, to wit: her own pregnancy, by ingesting medication,” and that this conduct was not a legal abortion performed in accordance with Indiana abortion law.6
To many observers, it was a shocking new application of Indiana’s feticide law, which was intended to criminalize “knowing or intentional termination of another’s pregnancy.”7 Turning this law into one that can be used to punish a woman who herself has an abortion is an extraordinary expansion of the scope and intention of the state’s law. Nevertheless, a jury convicted Patel on both the feticide and neglect charges; she now faces as many as 70 years in prison.
Even though abortion is legal.
The outcome of this case is noteworthy and alarming for another reason as well. It directly contradicts the repeated claims of anti-abortion leaders that their efforts will not lead to punishing women. Several years ago, 17 anti-choice leaders participated in an online symposium hosted by the conservative magazine National Review, addressing the question of whether there should be “jail time for women who seek abortions.”23 Overwhelmingly the writers assured readers that this was not their goal and moreover, that it would never happen.24 One of the contributors, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, argued that fears of women being prosecuted and jailed were just a pro-choice tactic to malign abortion opponents. 25
It will never happen. It will never never happen. Except when it does.
Of course it was going to happen. It’s converging on multiple points in anti-choice states, and it’s what happens in countries where abortions are banned (like El Salvador). Forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy against her will ultimately involves coercion, and since telling a miscarriage from an abortion can be difficult these days it means the anti-choice fanatics are ultimately going to be looking suspiciously at every miscarriage* and potentially going nuts over it.
* Not every miscarriage, of course. As always, it will be non-white and poor women who bear the brunt of these laws – also like in El Salvador and other anti-choice countries.
My only hope is that this ruling gets flipped in appeals court. It’s a travesty of justice.
This sort of thing is why I find the position of atheist/humanists who are opposed to abortion to be so incomprehensible (not to mention reprehensible). They claim that abortions are morally wrong on the basis that the fetus is a person in their own right, and the fetus’s right to life overrides the right to bodily autonomy of the pregnant woman. Then they ally themselves with the religious anti-choice position that abortion should be illegal.
Interestingly, the secular prolife blog (http://blog.secularprolife.org) has no mention of Purvi Patel, though they do have a recent post that asks for help for Indiana anti-choicers. I have sent them a query regarding their position on this case.
Deep down it is also about punishing women for having sex. Women sometimes feel ashamed so they don’t get the medical help they need early on. They feel that have to hide which is sometimes the reality in certain communities. So in the end these women get punished for having sex or for having a mental illness. There is just no empathy for these women and inability to put themselves in another person’s shoes.
John Horstman says
Those putative reasons for “feticide” laws were straight-up lies right from the start, and obvious ones. How do I know? Because anything that could potentially result in the killing of a fetus growing inside another person without that person’s consent is already illegal. It’s necessarily some form of assault. The only possible application of such laws is to prosecute pregnant people who want to end their pregnancies and the people who help them do so. If you think your assault statutes aren’t strict enough, then you make them more punitive, or add additional sentencing permutations for different situations (like those that already exist for pretty much every assault or murder law). You don’t pass redundant laws. If the intent is truly to punish someone who assaults a pregnant person and causes zir to miscarry, then you can just add that bit to your already-existing aggravated assault statute, ensuring that the state will have to demonstrate assault against the pregnant person for the “feticide” provision to come into play (of course, as long as suicide is illegal, there’s no guarantee that one cannot be prosecuted for assaulting oneself, as ridiculous as that is).
Why why why does ANYONE EVER accept something that an advocate of reproductive slavery says without question?
Well the USA is still a better place to live than Saudi Arabia.
Frankly this news makes me sick. I hope there are plenty of people sticking up for Ms. Patel, she’s going to need and deserves all the support she can get.