The state of Indiana has recently introduced huge sanctions for those of us with wombs and it’s even scarier than it sounds. 33-year-old Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week. In Indiana, where this was decided, this is a prison sentence the length of that faced by rapists and those who commit grievous bodily harm. However, Patel’s crime was simply the event of miscarriage. This chilling court verdict has the potential to spark a chain reaction of ruling our bodies from the courts, and not from inside them.
Court ignores Patel’s humanity, treating her as simply a vessel for having babies
Patel was admitted to casualty in July 2013 with heavy bleeding, eventually confessing to miscarrying a stillborn fetus, and hiding it in some rubbish bins. Patel comes from a traditional, conservative family who would have condemned premarital sex, and therefore was keeping herself safe through these actions. The prosecution accused Patel of lying, and deliberately trying to cause miscarriage through drug-use, although evidence was not found to support this. She was given a 20 year sentence on Monday.
The actions taken by the state of Indiana against Patel prove three things. Firstly, the utter disregard for female authority and testimony. Patel was neither believed nor respected throughout the trial, with prosecutors accusing her of lying and neglecting a child, despite the fact that no traces of fetus-harming drugs were found in her blood, and the child was never born; there is legally no child in this case.
Additionally, the state has proven that it values the fetus over the woman carrying it – the role of the woman is reduced to the carrying vessel. This destroys the rights of women to bodily autonomy through this change of perspective. This interference by the state to the body of a pregnant woman implies the role of the woman to just be that, a potential reproductive figure, rather than a thinking, feeling individual – which is both a terrifying and sickening thought. It allows pregnant women to be ignored and subjected to second-rate support due to their supposedly inferior status.
Thirdly, the state has shown its disregard for the safety and dignity of pregnant women through this, enforcing the dominance of the male gender through controlling the bodies of pregnant women. Women’s bodies are made subject to state surveillance in a way that men’s bodies are not.
Dark implications: The denial of bodily autonomy
The decision of the judge in the Indiana case is sickening and sinister; it makes the future look dark for pregnant American women as their wombs become more important than their choices. Seeing women as fit only for reproduction is a pre-medieval idea, and one which modern society should wholly condemn. Not only does this ruling degrade pregnant women and their rights, but it puts the rights of the fetus in front of that of born humans, causing complex and worrying moral questions. It makes abortion and miscarriage effectively illegal; if one can be imprisoned undergoing either, this completely removes the agency of the pregnant woman. Even if Patel had performed an illegal abortion on herself through drug use, should the state really be able to put her behind bars for as long as they do murderers and violent criminals?
No one should be able to influence your body and your choices surrounding it, and this latest case show Indiana’s courts denying a woman her right to bodily autonomy. Abortion may technically be legal in the United States, with provisions for those who are pro-choice allegedly available; this case shows the awful and abject reality.