An Indiana Judge Orders Purvi Patel Be Released From Jail Immediately, But She’s Still Behind Bars

St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Hurley of Indiana ruled Wednesday that Purvi Patel should be released from prison immediately. Hurley reasoned that Patel’s 18-month sentence was sufficient for her felony charge of neglect of a dependent, and parole would be unnecessary. Indiana Department of Corrections spokesman Isaac Randolph told The Guardian Wednesday that despite Judge Hurley’s ruling, officials were still reviewing the situation. However, Randolph also stated that Patel’s release in the “immediate future is possible.”

Patel was paradoxically convicted in 2015 of both feticide and neglect of a child for a self-induced abortion in 2013, and though the 2015 conviction and its staggering 20-year sentence was overturned roughly two months ago, Patel has remained in prison.

In Patel’s appeal back in May, her lawyers, Stanford Law professor Lawrence Marshall and Indiana University law professor Joel Schumm, argued Patel’s complex case by highlighting the numerous contradictions made by the prosecution. For something to constitute “child neglect,” the child must be born and alive. Meanwhile, the very act of committing feticide, which requires the infant to have died prior to birth, would render it impossible to commit child neglect, too.

Marshall and Schumm additionally argued against the prosecution’s claims that Patel had been 25 weeks into her pregnancy. According to Patel, she had only been between 10 and 12 weeks pregnant, nowhere near the point of fetal viability, when she used an abortion pill purchased from Hong Kong.

It has also been noted that the prosecution’s grounds for identifying the fetus as a living being Patel murdered was a lung float test, which medical textbooks and journals predominantly contest the validity of.

But ultimately, her lawyers pointed out that the 2009 law Patel had been convicted under, which increases in severity the punishment for killing a pregnant woman’s fetus, was not meant to be used against a pregnant woman, but rather third parties inflicting harm on the pregnant woman and her fetus. The prosecution’s manipulation of the law could easily be used as a frankly terrifying precedent to punish women for the outcomes of their pregnancies.

In 2013, Patel went to the hospital, quickly losing a high volume of blood after performing the abortion, and the fact that a doctor attending to her was of staunchly anti-choice ideology and bias played a significant role in getting police involved. An injured Patel was reportedly interrogated by police while literally still on her hospital bed.

Pro-Choice Rally at University of Texas
CREDIT: Jana Birchum/Getty Images

Patel’s situation was not ignored by pro-choice and feminist organizations, earning her the support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. A rise in self-induced abortions, which have become much safer in modern society in the form of abortion pills though still less safe than surgical abortions, is often attributed to a rise in stringent anti-choice regulations. These regulations include waiting periods, the inconvenience of multiple mandated appointments prior to a procedure, or unrealistic clinic requirements resulting in the closure of hundreds of clinics across the nation, all of which merely contribute to higher rates of women traveling out of state for their abortions, delaying their abortions to the second trimester, and in Patel’s case, being driven to commit a self-induced abortion, noted in compiled research by Guttmacher Institute.

Abortion is identified by the medical community as an extremely safe, low-risk procedure, and women are 14 times more likely to die giving birth than having an abortion, according to Columbia University research. Time and time again, paternalistic efforts to make women more “safe” through regulating and deterring their access to abortion are shown to actually do the opposite. The Guardian reported at the time Patel was appealing her sentence in May that women’s rights advocates argued her actions were a direct consequence of Indiana’s numerous regulations on abortion “prevent[ing] Patel from terminating her pregnancy with the supervision of a doctor” safely. Women’s rights advocates also argue “her trial was a case of overzealous prosecutors criminalizing a miscarriage.”

To punish women for what is beyond the scope of their control, from the failure of a contraception resulting in an unwanted pregnancy, to their limited access to abortion, to simply having a miscarriage, is to set an incredibly dangerous precedent. Indiana judges’ recent rulings in Patel’s favor serve as a much needed victory for reproductive rights, and frankly, the safety of all women.