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Purvi Patel Is Not A Poster Child For Abortion Rights

25/05/2016 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Pro-abortion rights signs are seen during the March for Life 2016, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Washington, during the annual rally on the anniversary of 1973 'Roe v. Wade' U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

On Monday, attorneys for Purvi Patel -- a 33-year-old Indian-American who made history by becoming the first woman in the US to be charged, convicted and sentenced for both foeticide and child neglect -- asked an appeals court to overturn the convictions that led to her 20-year prison sentence.

Patel's attorneys urged the panel of three judges at the Indiana Court of Appeals to grant the woman her freedom, alleging that the baby was stillborn. The state's attorney general's office defended its contention -- which was accepted by a jury that found Patel guilty in 2015 -- that the baby was born live and then killed by the defendant.

The problem with the case against Patel is that the charges that led to her conviction were contradictory. If she had indeed committed foeticide -- essentially an unlawful abortion -- it would have been impossible for her to also be guilty of "child neglect", which refers to the maltreatment of a living minor.

If she had indeed committed foeticide -- essentially an unlawful abortion -- it would have been impossible for her to also be guilty of "child neglect"...

The prosecution of Patel, say activists and advocates, is unfairly harsh and they have loudly and vocally condemned it.

The back-story on Patel: She was arrested in July 2013 after she sought treatment at a local hospital for profuse bleeding after delivering a 1 ½ pound infant boy and putting his body in a trash bin behind her family's restaurant. Court records show Patel purchased abortion-inducing drugs online through a pharmacy in Hong Kong, ingested them and delivered a premature baby in her bathroom at home. Then she threw away the foetus in a dumpster.

The prosecution speculated that because Patel lived with her parents and grandparents, she was fearful and embarrassed that the pregnancy would mean confessing to her affair with a married co-worker.

The details of the disposal of the foetus played a large part in the emotional build-up of the prosecution's case, neatly tying in with the theory that this was a case of cold-blooded murder and utter disregard for life. (Incidentally, other experts say that Patel may have been deeply traumatized, and thus threw away what she she's saying was an already dead child.) Media coverage has also focused on that sensational and tawdry detail that has both fascinated and enflamed public sentiment against Patel. They have gleefully reported details preceded by the phrase "court documents say," as if the prosecution saying it makes it the truth.

Some advocates seem determined to seize this case as an opportunity to further their agenda on abortion rights.

Patel's attorneys say that there this case has been ruled by emotion and not logic from the beginning.

In his brief, one of Patel's attorneys and Stanford law professor Lawrence C. Marshall argues:

"The State tells the story of a sinister woman who, knowing her pregnancy was far along and a live birth imminent, heartlessly endangered her baby by not going to the hospital before abortion drugs took effect. That woman is not Purvi Patel, and the State's inflammatory portrayal is both unconnected to any issue before the Court and unfaithful to the record of actual events."

The state replied to the brief saying that prosecutors were:

"[N]ot required to prove that an attempt to obtain medical care would have saved the baby's life, only that Defendant placed her baby in appreciable danger by not obtaining medical care for him."

The legal process will take its course and it will be months before the conclusion is announced. That is procedure, with which I have no issue. But I believe, like many, that Patel was wrongly convicted and she deserves her freedom.

And while I find it empowering and reassuring that at least two dozen women's advocacy groups, advocates and feminists are siding with Patel, I am deeply sceptical of the motives of some who filed amicus briefs to be in court. (For the record, anyone can file these but that does not mean that they are a part of the legal team at all.)

I have covered Patel's case from the beginning. I have been in touch with her attorney and with her strongest defender Rev. Marie Siroky, a board member of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice.

[Abortion rights advocates] are sensationalizing and possibly damaging her case and hurting her personally by using her name and image.

Patel's lawyer Lawrence Marshall has not given interviews and has requested that the media and others "proceed with dignity."

Patel is an introverted, reserved person. Neither her family nor she has ever spoken to the press. In fact, Patel has repeatedly refused all interview requests.

Meanwhile, some advocates seem determined to seize this case as an opportunity to further their agenda on abortion rights. Advocates for the National Asian Pacific Americans Forum (NAPAWF) is shared the event of the appeal on their Facebook page and asked people to come to court to show support.

"Learn more about why Purvi Patel's case matters for all women of color," they are posting on social media. "Pregnant women's rights are under attack," they scream at women. "You should expect police at your bedside if you seek help," they claim. One of these women's organizations got a bus to take women to the courthouse for free.

Patel has never endorsed their cause and she has never given them permission to raise money for her. Yes, at one time, there was a fundraiser for her family because she was their sole breadwinner but it ended last year.

They are sensationalizing and possibly damaging her case and hurting her personally by using her name and image.

Patel has never wanted the publicity and she has never wanted to be a poster child for abortion rights. I think these advocates should respect her wishes.

For Patel and her family, this is a tragedy of gigantic proportions. She has had what she has claimed is a horrible, unexpected stillbirth.

Women advocates have to stop treating the events around her case like a circus or afield trip or a cheerleading rally.

Patel has never wanted the publicity and she has never wanted to be a poster child for abortion rights.

I think these advocates should respect her wishes.

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Picture of Purvi Patel used with permission from the family

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