Analysis

Death, lies, and relativism in the Purvi Patel feticide conviction

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Proving that there are still states which take babies’ deaths more seriously than Colorado, on Monday, an Indiana judge sentenced Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison for attempting to kill her viable, 25 to 30-week-old son with abortion pills she got off the Internet, then wrapping him in a bag and abandoning him to die in a dumpster when he came out alive.

And yet, in response to this nightmarish display of inhumanity, the abortiosphere has recast its perpetrator in the role of victim.

Writers at all the usual haunts contend that Patel has been persecuted for nothing more than suffering a miscarriage. For example, here’s how Bustle’s Lauren Barbato spins the evidence:

[T]he affidavit claims a forensic pathologist, Dr. Joseph Prahlow, determined the baby was alive at birth. Police officers who searched her cell phone also alleged that Patel took abortion-inducing drugs, which she ordered online, because of text messages she sent to a friend. The messages stated she ordered the drugs from Hong Kong, and that she was more than 60 days pregnant. 

There was very little conclusive evidence these claims, which were greatly disputed during her trial. Doctors who testified for the defense said Patel did not have remnants of abortion-inducing drugs in her blood work when she arrived at the hospital following the stillbirth. The toxicologist also failed to find evidence of those drugs in the blood of the fetus. And as Patel’s lawyers pointed out, just because she texted her friend about the abortion-inducing drugs doesn’t mean she took them.

Members of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice who attended Patel’s trial also reported the prosecution used a discredited “lung float test” to prove that the baby was birthed alive and took at least one breath. The test has largely been debunked by contemporary scientists. 

Though initially sounding like enough to establish reasonable doubt, scratching the surface makes clear why it didn’t fly with the jury.

First, Barbato’s characterization of toxicologist Prentiss Jones’s testimony is deeply misleading. The wording implies a confident judgment that the drugs were never there, but what Jones actually said was that “he wasn’t aware of any standardized tests for the drugs or their metabolized remnants in blood at the time.” So while it may have been scientifically unknowable—which is very different from saying one does know Patel didn’t take them—the rest of the evidence is more than enough to resolve ambiguity on this point.

Police found emails and texts confirming that Patel searched for the drugs in question, then identified and contacted a Chinese website which offers them without a prescription. They also found texts to a friend confirming she received the pills and took them for the express purpose of eliminating her son:

According to text messages, the pills arrived at Moe’s Southwest Grill in Mishawaka – a restaurant Patel’s family owns – in early July. But Patel waited to take those pills until July 10, continuing to provide a detailed account of her situation to her friend, Herring told the jury.

“BTW, these pills taste like sh**. If these pills don’t work…I’m gonna be mad,” the text messages allegedly said.

Then on July 13, Patel text messaged her friend, “Just lost the baby. I’m gonna clean up the bathroom and then go to Moe’s.”

Gee, sounds just a tad more specific than the impression Barbato leaves us with, doesn’t it?

Apologists make much of the fact that the pills’ packaging was never found, but conveniently omit that the restaurant—y’know, the place where the suspect said she received them—was never searched for evidence.

So to recap: we know that Patel (a) wanted to abort her baby, (b) searched for illicit abortion pills, (c) found and contacted somebody willing to sell them to her, (d) claimed she received them, (e) claimed she took them, (f) hoped they worked, and (g) got the result she wanted. (We also know she repeatedly lied to emergency room doctors about having been pregnant.)

But we’re not supposed to draw the obvious conclusion from these incontrovertible facts that clearly show a direct progression from intent to action to outcome? It’s called reasonable doubt, not “straining-wishful-thinking-beyond-all-credulity” doubt.

Next, she suggests this poor child died before birth, rather than suffocating in a bag (never mind that the former outcome, having been willfully and artificially induced, still wouldn’t be miscarriage). But let’s take a closer look at the article she links on the lung float test’s unreliability. In it, Slate’s Leon Neyfakh provides the following summary of the test’s shortcomings:

The first is easiest to understand: If any attempt at resuscitation was made, either through mouth-to-mouth or chest compressions, that can introduce air into a lung, thus causing it to float even if the fetus was stillborn. The second has to do with decomposition: If the fetus has decomposed even a little bit, the lungs can fill with gas bubbles that would also result in the lung floating. Finally, Davis said, a fetus’s lungs can fill with air just by going through the vaginal canal, because pressure on the chest creates a “bellows effect.”

However, Neyfakh also reports that Prahlow’s full investigation took into account the limitations of the test (which a 2012 study  found reliable in 98 percent of cases), and compensated for them:

Prahlow supplemented the evidence from the float test with other findings, testifying that the lungs looked full of air when he removed the fetus’s chest plate during the autopsy, that the air sacs in the lung tissue looked expanded when he looked at them under a microscope, and that the weight of the lungs—approximately 21 grams—was consistent with a live birth. Prahlow also testified that, according to his analysis, blood had started flowing to the lungs, which would have only happened after the baby had taken a breath.

As for the claim that she tried resuscitating her son, Prahlow “testified that Patel’s resuscitation attempts, as she described them, were so minimal that they wouldn’t have had any effect on the baby’s lungs.” Besides, the idea that she’d suddenly try to save her victim after planning to kill him for months simply doesn’t pass the laugh test, especially considering she already lied more than once about what happened.

Aside from the particulars of the case, pro-aborts also see this as a golden opportunity to push the meme that pro-lifers are secretly clamoring to throw post-abortive women in jail. At The Nation, Michelle Goldberg cites an article written by yours truly:

The author, Calvin Freiburger, argues that pro-choice concerns about jailing women are a red herring, and that the anti-abortion movement has “largely reached consensus that punishment for abortion should rest predominantly with the one who performs the act: the abortionist.” Eventually, he allows, once pro-choice “indoctrination” has been uprooted so that the evil of abortion is more widely understood, “a future generation might decide that abortion-seeking women should be presumed to fully understand what they’re destroying, and they may choose to punish them accordingly. But that’s not where we are today. Pro-lifers recognize how the abortion movement victimizes mother and child alike, so we’re dedicated to saving both.”

Well, Patel, whose conviction will certainly be appealed, could use some saving. If this isn’t how the promoters of feticide laws intended them to be used, now would be a good time for them to say so.

No, I’m not interested in arresting women who have abortions (neither is the rest of the pro-life movement). But what happened here wasn’t just an abortion.

As Judge Elizabeth Hurley noted, the 33-year-old Patel is “an educated woman of considerable means,” and “if [she] wished to terminate [her] pregnancy safely and legally, [she] could have done so.” Instead, she repeatedly rejected a friend’s insistence that she see a doctor, simply because she didn’t want her traditional Hindu parents to know she’d had sex with a married co-worker. She didn’t get a doctor to do it, but killed her son herself.

Her son who was viable.

Her son who had “a full head of hair, ears, a nose, arms, legs and feet,” who “was an otherwise normal, healthy appearing baby” likely to have “exhibit[ed] signs of life when it was born, such as movement and possibly crying.”

Her son who she then left to die.

Indeed, Patel herself recognized he was no mere “evacuated tissue” when she coldly updated her friend, “Just lost the baby. I’m gonna clean up the bathroom and then go to Moe’s.”

Granted, the line between legal abortion and criminal feticide isn’t a bright one. Both kill a child whose existence is disagreeable to someone. But someone who seeks out an abortionist at least has the excuse that a professional the law says she can trust lied to her and withheld key information about what abortion really was.

More importantly, the fact that society’s fallen so far that we must entertain these compromises in the first place, where we’re splitting hairs over different gradations of killing children, is the point. Witness Tara Culp-Ressler’s contribution to this spectacle in ThinkProgress, where she laments the “knee-jerk” reaction to Patel’s demeanor:

It disturbs a lot of people that she chose to place the fetus in a dumpster. Her nurses were surprised that she wasn’t displaying more emotion at the hospital, and wondered why she was spending so much time on her phone.

Ultimately, Patel didn’t fit other people’s ideas of how a proper grieving mother should behave[.]

Read that again. This is the moral freakshow that abortionism is turning us into: a world where noticing a blatant lack of basic human empathy is intolerable, but literally throwing away our young like garbage isn’t. A world where no standard is universal except the illegitimacy of standards. A world where where polite society is more “frightened” by judging evil than by evil itself.

That’s what’s at stake here. That’s where prosecutors in Indiana drew the line. The more acclimated we become to ignoring others’ humanity, the more we cheapen our own.

Wake up, America.

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