Australasian Spartacist No. 226
Free Purvi Patel Now!
Imprisoned in U.S. for Miscarriage
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1066 (17 April), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
Breaking new ground in anti-woman cruelty, on March 30 an Indiana court sentenced Purvi Patel to prison for 20 years for having a miscarriage. This is the first time anyone in the U.S. has been convicted and sentenced for “feticide,” a bogus crime based on anti-scientific nonsense that a fetus is a human being with a “soul.” Part of the ongoing crusade against abortion rights, Patel’s persecution sets a dangerous precedent for locking up any woman suspected of ending her own pregnancy.
The 33-year-old daughter of immigrants from India, Purvi Patel had the odds stacked against her from the beginning. Already caring for two older generations of her family when she discovered that she was pregnant, Patel, who was unmarried, hid her pregnancy from her religious Hindu parents. Receiving no prenatal care, she experienced a miscarriage at home, discarded the fetal remains in the trash and began bleeding profusely. Checking into a Catholic hospital, she was seen by an anti-abortion obstetrician (a member of a “pro-life” association). Determining that Patel had been pregnant, the doctor abandoned her to help police search for the fetal remains. After surgery, she was subjected to police interrogation in the recovery room while still suffering the effects of anesthesia and blood loss. She was never read her Miranda rights. [When a person is taken into police custody, he or she must be told of the right not to make any self-incriminating statements.]
With twisted depravity, Patel was convicted of both child neglect and killing a fetus. Every detail of her case is a crime against elementary human decency. Prosecutors manipulated age-old bias to defame the childless Patel as selfish. As for “child neglect,” they got the jury to believe that Patel had delivered a viable fetus. The state used a ludicrous, 17th-century “lung float test” whereby fetal tissue that floats in water is supposedly proof of life—a method that sent countless women to the gallows for infanticide during the European witch trials. To supposedly prove “feticide,” prosecutors accused Patel of trying to end the pregnancy herself based on text messages referring to abortion drugs, despite the fact that there was no evidence that she bought them and toxicology reports showed she had not consumed them. The prosecutor argued that someone can be guilty of “feticide” even if the fetus survives.
With 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies ending in miscarriage, the menace to women is clear. Prior to the trial, 20,000 people signed a petition calling for Patel’s “feticide” charge to be dropped. An amici curiae brief issued by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, medical experts and women’s rights organizations listed broader ramifications of the case, including “public health consequences, perpetuation of second-class status for women, and the likelihood that such prosecutions will target poor women and women of color, who are already disproportionately subject to law enforcement surveillance, arrest, and punishment.” Such criminalization makes women afraid of talking frankly with medical providers and further deters them from seeking essential prenatal care.
The only other woman prosecuted for fetal homicide in Indiana was an Asian immigrant. In 2010, Bei Bei Shuai attempted suicide by ingesting rat poison while pregnant, and although she survived, the baby died shortly after a premature delivery. Shuai was behind bars for more than a year before being released on a plea bargain.
Cynically presented as protecting expectant mothers, “fetal homicide” laws, which are on the books in 38 states, are part of the broader arsenal for persecuting women who engage in anything deemed unacceptable maternal behavior, from drinking alcohol to not wearing a seat belt. Reflecting the racist reality in America, black women are already significantly more likely than white women to be reported by hospital staff, arrested for drug use during pregnancy and then slammed with felony child abuse charges.
Reactionary zealots and religious fundamentalists advance their “fetal rights” agenda with the aim of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion; they aim to throw women back to the days of the coat hanger. The president of Operation Rescue gloated, “We win every time we establish the precedent that the unborn child in the womb is a unique human individual.” Anti-abortion forces have been successful in chipping away at abortion rights. Whole swaths of the country now have no abortion providers. To the U.S. rulers, the murder of abortion providers and countless arson attacks on clinics over the decades do not count as “terror” because they’re carried out by Christians, not Muslims.
Just last week, Kansas became the first state to outlaw the dilation and evacuation procedure, the most common technique for second-trimester abortions. This is on top of Kansas’ multiple restrictions on legal abortions, including banning them after 20 weeks. No wonder many women without economic means to provide for a child or who do not envision sacrificing themselves to motherhood increasingly rely on “do it yourself” methods to end unintended pregnancies. These include drugs like RU 486, which although effective and easy to use is not readily obtainable.
The message is: Stay knocked up or get locked up. We say that abortion as well as contraception should be available at no cost as part of universal, quality health care that is free at the point of service. Roe v. Wade was a gain for women’s rights, but like all aspects of health care in this racist, class-divided society, it did not make abortion generally available for poor and working-class women. (Rich women have always been able to get one.) The right to abortion was won in a period of broader social unrest and struggle. Like any reform, it is reversible under capitalism.
Republican bible-thumpers make it easy for Democrats to posture as more rational and sympathetic to women’s rights, for example by calling to preserve Roe v. Wade. But their support for abortion rights is nominal at best. Democrats have consistently supported the ban on federal funds for abortion included in the Hyde Amendment, a direct assault on poor women enacted in the late 1970s under “born again” Democrat Jimmy Carter. And while prosecutors and legislators tout their pro-motherhood credentials, neither capitalist party does anything to address the real concerns of pregnant women, from quality prenatal care and guaranteed paid maternity leave to protection against discrimination.
In this sick, racist capitalist society that trumpets the absurd notion of the rights of the “unborn,” more than 28,000 babies born each year die before their first birthday. In the U.S., infant deaths rank the highest of any advanced industrialized society, and black infant mortality is on a par with Jamaica. That so many children are brought up in crumbling housing, with inadequate medical attention and substandard education, is the direct responsibility of the U.S. capitalist rulers, who lord over a profit system based on the exploitation of the many by the few. Recently, a black kitchen worker on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and his seven children died of carbon monoxide poisoning after his electricity was cut off and he tried to keep them warm with a generator. Meanwhile, immigrant families live in daily fear of being split up through deportations.
Even as the ruling class makes life hell for working-class and poor families, it upholds the sanctity of the family. Along with organized religion and the state, the family, the main source of the oppression of women, plays a crucial role in buttressing class rule. For the capitalists, as for possessing classes throughout history, the patriarchal family serves to ensure the “rightful” inheritance of property. The family is also the means for raising the next generation of wage slaves and for instilling conservative morality and imposing social control on the exploited and oppressed. With women expected to embrace the role of “maternal hosts” for the next generation, restrictions on abortion and contraception are integrally related to the maintenance of the family.
Democrats and Republicans hypocritically bewail the “crisis of the family,” insisting that parents be wholly responsible for—and relish—the upbringing of their children. Thus parents, especially so-called “bad mothers,” are blamed for their children’s every failure. “Family values,” much like the catchphrase “religious freedom,” serve as a tool of social reaction against those who fall outside the traditional nuclear family, from single mothers to gays and transgenders. The recent passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act directly targets gays and will no doubt also be used to further deny contraception and abortion services. Meanwhile, many liberals trumpet gay marriage as a way that they, too, can uphold the institution of the family.
The barbaric persecution of Purvi Patel demonstrates the need to link the defense of women’s rights to the struggles of the working class against the capitalist enemy. The liberation of women and all the oppressed can be achieved only through the victory of socialist revolution, with the working class creating its own state based on a planned economy. Our goal as Marxists is a world communist society of material abundance, in which the family will wither away as its social functions—housework, child-rearing, etc.—are replaced by collective institutions. For the working class to realize its task of overthrowing capitalist rule and all of its social backwardness requires building a proletarian, revolutionary internationalist party that champions all the exploited and the oppressed.