INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — An Indiana appeals court heard this week the case of a woman who was convicted last year of feticide and sentenced to 20 years behind bars after she allegedly threw her newborn baby in the trash.
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed amicus briefs in the case in support of Purvi Patel, 34, who was arrested in 2013 after she purchased abortion-inducing drugs online and then left her prematurely-born baby boy in the dumpster behind her family’s restaurant.
As previously reported, after giving birth, Patel went to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mishawaka with heavy bleeding and a umbilical cord hanging from her body. She initially denied being pregnant, but later told investigators that she had found out just three weeks prior that she was with child. Patel had been having an affair with a co-worker.
As her Hindu family is against premarital sex, Patel said that she panicked when she began to go into labor and left the baby in a dumpster behind a local shopping center because she “didn’t know what else to do.” She claimed that the baby was stillborn and that she had attempted to revive the child, although she later admitted that she didn’t want her parents to know that she had been having sex and became pregnant.
“[You didn’t want them to know] about the encounter, or about tonight?” a detective asked her.
“All of it,” she replied.
But prosecutors contended that the child, who is estimated to be between 25 to 30 weeks gestation, was born alive and that Patel left the baby to die.
While toxicology reports came up negative for abortion-inducing drugs at the time of the investigation, Dr. Kelly McGuire, who examined Patel and the baby retrieved from the dumpster, told the court earlier last year that the baby could have survived following birth and a medical examiner testified that the baby passed a “floating test,” indicating that he or she could have been breathing following their birth.
Patel was declared guilty of feticide and neglect of a dependent and sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
On Monday, her attorney Lawrence Marshall argued before a three-judge panel that there was insufficient evidence that the child was born alive.
“The evidence in this case was not there whatsoever,” he stated. “Not a single expert ever said—in any sort of declarative way—that yes, this infant would have survived had Ms. Patel done differently.”
Marshall also contended that state law surrounding feticide does not pertain to illegal abortions, but only to third parties whose criminal actions result in the death of an unborn child. He additionally asserted that the neglect charge was faulty because there wasn’t proof that the baby would have survived if he had been taken to the hospital.
Deputy Attorney General Ellen Meilaender noted, however, that doctors had testified at trial that the baby’s heart was likely beating when it was born and could have taken a breath.
“It’s the defendant’s failure to seek medical treatment, to provide that care for the baby, that led to all of the things that resulted in the baby’s death,” she said. “The jury could reasonably infer that somebody who was holding a live baby in her hands would be aware that it was alive.”
The state has also argued in filed arguments that it was “not 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.”
While it is unclear as to how the appeals court will rule, the panel suggested that the case most likely will come down to whether it can be proven without doubt that Patel knew her baby was alive at the time of birth and intentionally neglected to seek care for the infant.