Police arrested Indiana woman Purvi Patel Monday on a preliminary charge of feticide, which under Indiana law is defined as “a person who knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.” Traditionally, feticide charges aren’t filed against the person who had been pregnant, though Indiana has set a precedent for arresting such a person for feticide in one other case.
Patel arrived at a Mishawaka hospital Saturday needing post-delivery medical care, but did not have an infant with her. When staff questioned Patel, she provided investigators with information that led them to a dumpster, where the body of a fetus was discovered, according to the South Bend Tribune.
Although preliminary charges have been filed against Patel, investigators have said they do not yet know if the fetus was alive at birth or if it was stillborn, and have tests pending to determine which was the case. Also pending is a toxicology report on the fetus. Details, such as gestational age, have not been released.
Feticide in Indiana is a Class B felony, and a conviction could carry a six-to-20-year prison sentence for Patel. Indiana has shown precedent for arresting pregnant individuals for feticide in the case of Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant who was charged with murder after she ingested rat poison as part of a suicide attempt in early 2011. Shuai gave birth to a premature baby soon after her attempt, and when the baby died a few days later, Shuai was charged with murder and held for over a year without bail. Shuai will finally go to trial on September 3.
Proving intent to terminate a pregnancy can be difficult for prosecutors, however. When Idaho’s Jennie Linn McCormack was charged with unlawful termination, the case was eventually dropped because prosecutors could not prove that the fetus discovered by authorities died as a result of McCormack’s actions, despite McCormack admitting she did take medication meant to induce a miscarriage. New Yorker Yaribely Almonte was also charged with illegal abortion, and, after an inconclusive autopsy report, the charges were dropped in that case as well.
Prosecutors have 48 hours from the time of Patel’s arrest to formally charge her.