Let’s Be Straight!

Indiana’s New Law, Disposal of Fetal Remains

1) In Indiana’s last legislative session, Sen. Liz Brown authored SEA 329 Disposal of Fetal Remains which legislatively redefined the medical term “fetus” to mean “unborn child irrespective of gestational age or duration of pregnancy”. Thus “fetus” now means a zygote, embryo or fetus under some Indiana laws. It assigned the Indiana State Department of Health the responsibility of regulating disposal of fetal remains framed as an optional right of families to bury or cremate them. Details were left to the Indiana Department of Health. The law does not make a distinction between fetal remains of medication and surgical abortions. The Governor’s office has input into how the Department of Health executes this policy. One thing we are hearing from their meetings is that the policies may not be optional for families after all. The policy may instead apply to all families’ fetal remains. This does more than place new burdens on abortion clinics. As for disposal of fetal remains of medication abortion, that happens at home, usually in toilets. This sets the stage for Indiana to investigate what appears to be a miscarriage or stillbirth to search for a reason to punish the woman who experienced it. We are concerned for the sake of anyone who can be pregnant. But we are alarmed for low income women, women of color, and especially women of color who are not perceived to be Christian, particularly Asian American women. These policies are always selectively applied because investigations are based on suspicion. All medical and public health professional societies oppose the intrusion of law enforcement into perinatal health care because it leads to worse public health outcomes with wider disparities. This is harmful and unwarranted overregulation of reproduction. These public health policies and this law are intentionally murky.

Purvi Patel v. Indiana

2) In the discussion of Purvi Patel vs. Indiana, much of the public information has contained important points of misinformation. Advocates and journalists seem to feel compelled to say one of two things: they say she claimed it was a miscarriage or they say it was an unsupervised medication abortion from pills obtained online. It is difficult to write an article without saying either of those things, but here are some facts. There is no supporting toxicology evidence of a do-it-yourself abortion. There is some text evidence that it was, but we believe the way the information was obtained which led to the warrant to search her electronics may not be ethical and legal. The prosecution did not investigate abnormalities or other possible causes of premature birth. The statements in the charging affidavit are very different than the testimony of health care providers under oath. That has become the source of accidental propagation of crucial misinformation by reporters and advocates. Several board members and friends attended most of the trial and disagree with the most commonly repeated narratives that Purvi consistently maintains that she had a miscarriage. Purvi is only on record in the 3:00 am video interrogation and did not self-diagnose. According to our memories and eye-witness reporters, she declined to answer providers’ questions at first but later answered all relevant questions without discrepancies. She declined to answer questions about the ethnicity of her sexual partner. She described symptoms that could be consistent with either a miscarriage or an unsupervised medication abortion. When challenged, out-of-area reporters and advocates have rationalized that miscarriage can mean either a spontaneous abortion or an induced abortion and that a loose definition is just a small point of difference. This is not true. Stedman’s Medical Dictionary is the definitive resource of reproductive ethicists. The medical definition of miscarriage is a spontaneous loss of pregnancy before viability. A synonym for miscarriage is spontaneous abortion. An induced abortion is not a miscarriage. Putting inaccurate words in Purvi’s mouth is irresponsible because her credibility is on the line. Purvi is the only witness to the birth. Even the prosecutor claims the baby “died at seconds to minutes of age”. By international forensic medical criteria, without any sign of injury or food in the stomach the only person who can say whether it was a live birth or not is Purvi.
3) Larry Marshall, the attorney for Purvi’s appeal, has released few public comments other than this: “There’s so much passion around the case that may have distorted the neutral application of the law.” We agree. But the root of this problem isn’t the passion; it is the hyperbole and misleading misinformation that is often attached to that passion. Because we advocate for evidence-based medically accurate sexuality education, a coherent ethic calls us to oppose the hyperbole and redefinition of medical terms that distort understanding and neutral application of the law.
4) Now that Purvi’s case is in the hands of an appeal lawyer she trusts, she does not endorse any public campaign to free her or even raise awareness of her case. However, the case is a matter of public record that affects other people, so we will participate in low-profile education and correction of important points of misinformation. We continue to support her and her parents in personal ways.
5) Many articles have repeated misinformation about the prison sentence. To be clear, Purvi isn’t in prison twenty years for feticide. The feticide charge is six years, the neglect charge is twenty and she is serving them concurrently. She needs both charges overturned on appeal to be free.
6) The reason Purvi was convicted of apparently contradictory charges of feticide and neglect of a dependent is that Indiana law redefined the medical term “feticide”. The correct medical definition of “feticide” is an act that causes the destruction of a fetus or an embryo in the uterus. Indiana law redefined “feticide” to mean intentional, knowing termination of pregnancy without an intention of live birth, except legal abortion. This was a pregnancy that did not go to term and Purvi’s private texts indicate there were times she did not intend live birth. So under Indiana law, “feticide” can mean either an attempt or a successful feticide without destruction of the fetus. It gets down to intent. This is nowhere close to the medical definition. Intent is nowhere close to incriminating for analogous crimes under the homicide and battery statutes. These laws are intentionally murky.
7) We have presented this to the best of our ability but recognize that we are not perfect. We invite feedback, challenges and questions in our search for accuracy and honesty.

The passion that drives the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice is grounded in our faith. We do not make a legal or political argument. We make a moral and ethical argument with the core values of honesty, public health evidence, compassion and justice.

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