Support Purvi Patel’s Right to Control Her Own Body

by Carol Downer

In our rush to support Purvi Patel, the woman sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Indiana Judge on the charges of child neglect and feticide (inducing her own abortion), many have adopted Patel’s claim that she miscarried, leaving the question hanging as to whether we would support her if she induced an abortion.

The prosecution introduced evidence that Patel had told a friend about ordering pills to induce an abortion and about taking the medication, and had then texted her to say “just lost the baby.”

We have seen abortion rights curtailed in recent years. The desperation of females who have been denied a way to solve their problem of unwanted pregnancy, the availability of abortion-inducing pills, and a female’s dependence on medical help if complications of miscarriage or induced abortion arise will continue to produce these horrific outcomes (see New York Times and Salon articles). We’d better think this through and take a position that doesn’t embroil us in factual evidentiary disputes or place us in the position of accepting the legitimacy of the State punishing a female for trying to control her own body.

Given the evidence that Patel induced an abortion, many of her supporters have shifted to the question of whether the fetus was viable and if so, whether it was a stillborn. Viability is not determined by whether a particular fetus of a certain age will live, it is determined by the statistical probability that it will live, based on whether any fetuses born at that stage of development (who were cared for in a well-equipped neo-natal unit) have lived. Whether the defense’s estimate of the fetus’ age was correct or the prosecutor’s estimate of a later fetal age, the fetus was very premature and its chances of survival under the best conditions were problematic.

But why are feminists basing our support on whether the fetus was viable? And, why are we challenging the tests for whether the fetus managed to take a breath? Don’t we support Patel in her right to rid herself of an unwanted fetus? It is her body, after all, and when a female is forced to maintain a pregnancy, it is reproductive slavery. Just because the Supreme Court decided that there was a point during pregnancy when the fetus’ rights trumped the female’s rights, why do we accept that?

Of course, her attorney should and must present every defense, but unless we agree that the State has the right to control our reproductive organs under some circumstances, we must uphold Patel whether she had a miscarriage or expelled a premature fetus. If the authorities pay attention to our petitions, it will be because they see how outraged we are at this prosecution and sentence and because they feel compelled to respect the national outcry. They will not be swayed by the fact that we’ve believed the defense’s version of the facts, or that we’ve presented a legal argument.

As a female and as a feminist, I support Patel unequivocally. FREE PURVI PATEL!

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2 comments for “Support Purvi Patel’s Right to Control Her Own Body

  1. Kathy Scarbrough
    April 17, 2015 at 10:19 am

    This commentary is a much needed redirection! Thank you Carol Downer.
    Readers may be interested to know that there is an effort to write letters of support to Purvi Patel in prison. You can send a letter:
    Purvi Patel
    c/o The Indiana Coalition for Reproductive Justice
    P.O. Box 723
    Lafayette, IN 47902

    Member of the Coalition are visiting her in prison and will bring letters along.

  2. Carla Lesh
    July 3, 2015 at 4:06 pm


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