Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) advocates applauded the Indiana Court of Appeals decision Friday to vacate Purvi Patel's feticide conviction, as well as the decision to downgrade her conviction for neglect of a dependent. After re-sentencing, Patel — who had been serving a 20-year sentence for both convictions — could potentially be eligible for immediate release due to time already served.
"Ms. Patel's case represents another attack on the reproductive health care of those women who are most vulnerable — Asian-American women," Amina Abbas, Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) director of government relations, told NBC News. "As the case made clear, Indiana's law presented clear constitutional challenges and sought to criminalize women by punishing them for abortion — putting all women at risk. We hope this case highlights that laws like Indiana's are an affront to the health and dignity of all women."
Advocates are concerned that AAPIs and other women of color are disproportionately affected by these kinds of laws and by the lack of access to quality health care due to poverty, cultural barriers, and racist myths and stereotypes.
"We are thrilled that this wrongful conviction has been overturned," Lakshmi Sridaran, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) director of national policy and advocacy, told NBC News. "It's important to remember that Indiana has enforced its feticide law against two pregnant women, both of whom are Asian American. We hope the strong precedent set in Patel's appeal will protect women of color in states like Indiana and others where laws that should protect them often end up criminalizing them instead."
Indiana's feticide law was originally passed to protect pregnant women from violence after a pregnant bank teller was shot during a 2008 bank robbery. However, while only two percent of Indiana's population is Asian American, the only women ever charged with feticide in Indiana have been Asian American — Patel and Bei Bei Shuai. Shuai was charged with feticide in 2011 after a failed suicide attempt resulted in a miscarriage, but the charge was later dropped as part of a plea deal.
"Today, the court did the right thing," Leng Leng Chancey, NAPAWF deputy director of systems and sustainability, told NBC News. "However, we cannot leave our fate in the hands of the courts; we must remain vigilant. We know that AAPI women are vulnerable to being targeted because of myths and racist and negative stereotypes about our reproductive decision making. We must continue to dispel these myths and advocate for quality, affordable and culturally competent health care."
APIAHF, SAALT, NAPAWF, along with 17 other AAPI nonprofit organizations, filed an amicus curiae brief together in support of Patel's appeal.