As the founder of Choices Women’s Medical Center, today a comprehensive women’s health facility that I began as a small abortion clinic 44 years ago, I have consistently been in the crosshairs of an always-intense and sometimes murderous battle aimed at both providers and women.
My longtime friend and associate, a skilled and loving abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, was assassinated by a fanatic’s bullet six years ago as he began Sunday services in the vestibule of his church. He was the most recent of eight providers and clinic staff killed in cold blood in their line of duty serving women.
And women, desperate for lives of their own choosing but often having no access to safe, legal abortion in many parts of the country, are being forced to return to pre-Roe days of coat hangers, knitting needles and toxic chemicals.
But now there is a new and deadly complicity that has begun to infect the medical community itself – that of acting as the enforcer of laws against so-called crimes against the fetus and the criminalization of women for what can only be described as reproductive crimes.
Most of us by now are familiar with the tragic case of Purvi Patel, sentenced March 29 to a staggering 41 years, 20 of which must be served in prison, on charges of feticide and, in a bazaar companion accusation, to “felony neglect of an infant.” This did not happen under some “despotic” foreign regime but in Indiana in the “enlightened” US.
A 33-year-old Indian-American, Patel went to a hospital emergency room with heavy vaginal bleeding and at first denied she had been pregnant. She later said she had miscarried and disposed of the expelled fetus in a dumpster. She was admitted for treatment and recovered from the severe blood loss and attendant physical trauma. But the greater trauma may have been when police walked into her room as she was recovering from surgery. They had been summoned by hospital personnel (including an anti-abortion OBGYN physician) who turned over Patel’s private medical records while she was in surgery. It later came out that Patel earlier had texted a friend that she planned to send away for the abortion pill, and this became evidence that Patel had tried to self-induce – even though toxicologists found no trace of the drug in her body. While the “abortion pill” is available in the U.S. with a prescription, it’s illegal to order them online.
Purvi Patel is NOT a criminal. She needed medical help but was betrayed by an Indiana M.D. and sacrificed to a law that values fetal existence over women’s lives.
The point here is NOT whether or not Purvi Patel experienced a spontaneous miscarriage or deliberately induced an abortion. The reason this happened is not the issue. What IS the issue and has alarming implications for women across the country, is that Purvi Patel was charged as a criminal for, according to Indiana law, killing a person. She is the first person to be charged, convicted and sentenced for the crime of feticide in the U.S.
This means that every woman who becomes pregnant is at risk, her life determined by what happens to the fetus. Fetal existence trumps the woman’s personhood and very humanity.
When I and a few others first began sounding the alarm years ago about the implications of draconian restrictions on women’s reproductive choices, some minimized the threat, saying that women would always find ways to end unwanted pregnancies, that women themselves would certainly never be thrown into jail for miscarriages or abortions. The U.S. could never be like, for example, El Salvador, that criminalizes ALL abortions and where women have to submit to interrogation and examination to prove miscarriages were not intended. “It can’t happen here.”
Well, it’s happening here now, and Purvi Patel’s case is just the most well-known. Iowa, Utah, Louisiana, Florida….all have documented cases of women being prosecuted, arrested and imprisoned, with medical personnel – doctors, nurses, social workers – serving the role of the state’s secret police.
This is an outrageous situation and should not be tolerated by anyone who cares about women. Personhood laws and the culpability of enforcers within the medical profession are among the greatest threats to women’s freedom today and must be opposed.