On July 22, the Indiana Court of appeals issued a decision in the case of Purvi Patel, who has been serving time in prison after suffering a miscarriage in July of 2013. Purvi was originally convicted of both feticide and neglect of a child after ending her pregnancy outside of a medical setting. This set a dangerous precedent for the treatment of pregnant people nationwide. In May 2016, she appealed her sentence, and her feticide charge was vacated last month. The decision stated, “The legislature did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to illegal abortions or to be used to prosecute women for their own abortions.” This is important. She is still sitting in prison facing a new sentence for class D felony neglect of a dependent, however, and Indiana is still one of 38 states with feticide laws on the books that are being interpreted to punish women, particularly poor women and women of color, for their pregnancy outcomes. How did we get here?
Many people remember when Donald Trump told reporter Chris Matthews “there has to be some form of punishment” in March. He was referring to women who have abortions. Pro-life organizations and leaders were quick to distance themselves from his remarks, claiming that punishment for women is not what they are advocating for as they work to restrict abortion access. Trump’s comments may seem extreme, but they are not that far off from the impact the pro-life movement is having on women across the country.
What have March for Life, Students for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, and Concerned Women for America had to say on the conviction of Purvi Patel? Absolutely nothing. Despite claims that they do not condone the punishment of women for terminating their pregnancies, pro-life organizations do not seem to be coming to the defense of Purvi, nor explaining how their continued assaults on abortion rights will ensure women do not go to prison for their reproductive choices.
When responding to Donald Trump’s comments, Students for Life went so far as to say that, “No one in the pro-life movement wants to punish women who have abortions,” a pretty bold statement to make when women are indeed currently being punished for the outcomes of their pregnancies, and the same leading pro-life organization is nowhere to be found:
Similarly, Susan B Anthony List, despite having stated that they’ve “Never advocated for the punishment of women who undergo abortion,” has failed to explain what they are doing to keep women like Purvi out of prison. On April 21 of this year, Reproaction held a vigil outside of Susan B Anthony List’s annual gala, asking supporters to explain their silence on the criminalization of women like Purvi, only to be met with more silence. It seems as though their initial quickness to condemn Trump’s comments was rooted more in a fear of the true pro-life agenda being exposed, because their actions are not living up to their claims. This became especially clear when the group switched positions, rallying behind the Republican nominee believing he will “join them on the offense,” in the fight to eliminate access to abortion. The message is clear: the pro-life movement is not interested in protecting women from prison or even death. Rather, it is scrambling to save face as the consequences of their efforts, real human beings suffering greatly under restrictive barriers to abortion access, attempt to tell their stories and seek justice.
Purvi Patel should be immediately released, and no woman should fear arrest for choosing abortion, suffering a miscarriage, or accessing medical care. The pro-life movement’s insistence on shutting down abortion clinics, restricting access to medication abortion, and stigmatizing an extremely safe and common medical procedure will only result in more women jailed and prosecuted for the outcomes of their pregnancies. If this is not the goal of the pro-life movement, they are having a hard time proving it.