Estimated reading time: 11 minutes.
A woman in Indianapolis was jailed this week for feticide. This is the story of a pro-choice redditor who looked into the details of the conviction and discovered that many media stories about this case are withholding crucial details.
Wikipedia describes reddit as “an entertainment, social networking and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links.” I can’t personally recommend it to anybody due to some of the content that you can find there, but I’ve subscribed to several of the news sub-groups (or “subreddits”) and the small pro-life subreddit has been very supportive of my work.
News stories related to the abortion debate rarely show up on the front page of reddit, a website whose average user has very liberal views on abortion. This week’s story about the Indianapolis woman jailed for feticide was an exception though. I’ll summarize that story and then tell you of the pro-choice redditors who modeled honest reasoning and exposed WNCN’s treatment of the story that leaves out critical facts.
You can read how WNCN handled the story in a piece that was shared 68,000 times on Facebook, but the gist is that a 33-year-old woman named Purvi Patel has been sentenced to 26-years in prison on charges of neglect of a dependent and feticide. In states with feticide laws, it is illegal to kill an unborn fetus without the assistance of an abortionist. In other words, for nearly all intents and purposes an unborn child is treated like a person under the law, but an exception is carved out for abortion.
Patel is accused of taking abortion-inducing drugs illegally, causing her 23-25 week fetus to die. There is contradicting evidence on whether the child was dead before birth or shortly after birth. Patel threw the child’s body into a dumpster afterwards, but eventually went to the hospital due to severe bleeding. She was eventually arrested after she admitted to lying to hospital staff and there was enough evidence that an investigation was called for.
This is clearly a very tragic story, but you don’t have to read carefully to see the bias in the way this story is being reported by WNCN. Four people are quoted and all are defending Patel. Two of them are members of pro-choice organizations, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice.
The question before the jury was whether Patel merely miscarried and handled her child’s body in a disrespectful way by throwing it in a dumpster, or if her miscarriage was the result of her taking abortion-inducing drugs. Notice how WNCN reported this crucial question:
Prosecutors also claimed that Patel ordered abortion-inducing drugs online and tried to terminate her pregnancy, but a toxicology report failed to find evidence of any drugs in her system.
Well, that seems open-and-shut, doesn’t it? How could Patel have possibly been found guilty if those are the facts? I believe that’s the question this WNCN reporter wants you to ask.
After I saw the story show up on reddit I read WNCN’s piece and then went to read the highest-voted comments from redditors on the story. And I was very impressed. On a website where abortion debates are rarely even tried because of the lack of diversity on the abortion issue, the highest-voted comment was from a pro-choice redditor whose username is “whynotwastemoretime,” who wrote this:
I’m vehemently pro-choice. But I’d like to mention some text messages this woman sent to a friend:
“These pills taste like (expletive deleted) ….” and that “if these don’t work after tasting so nasty, I’m going to be mad.” source . EDIT: THIS TEXT WAS SENT 3 DAYS BEFORE SHE WENT TO THE HOSPITAL.
Also, from another article (source):
On June 10, Patel text messaged her friend about ordering abortion pills from an “international pharmacy,” and when the friend asked Patel three more times to see a doctor, she replied, “I’d rather not even go to a doc. I just want to get this over with,” Herring said.
Then on July 13, Patel text messaged her friend, “Just lost the baby. I’m gonna clean up the bathroom and then go to Moe’s.” Note: Moe’s is the name of the restaurant her parents own. Also, THIS TEXT WAS SENT THE DAY BEFORE SHE WENT TO THE HOSPITAL.
That’s where investigators have said they ultimately found the baby, in a dumpster, wrapped in plastic bags.
Her friend also repeatedly urged her to go to a doctor starting in April, but she refused. I think this adds a layer to the conversation and wanted to mention it because these these text message were not mentioned in this article or many of the other articles I’ve read within the past few days. Only our local media seems to have actually shared the content of these text messages. I suspect they are a major reason why the jury chose to convict.
I’d also like to add that quite a few articles I’ve read about this seem to indicate that she came from a family with little means and she was working alone to support her parents/grandparents (setting up a sympathetic/desperate story). Her parents own a successful restaurant in town and that’s where she chose to dump the fetus.
Edited to add more info.
Edited again My intent with posting this was to provide a fuller picture of a complex case. I think these texts are a very important piece and can show a likely reason that the jury decided the way they did. I also feel that many of the articles I’ve seen are purposely leaving the content of these texts out because they make her a less sympathetic figure. I agree with many people that there is a real risk of feticide laws being misused, the laws were applied “creatively” in this particular case (ie charging her with feticide, and the neglect/feticide double charge) and I question the length of her sentence as a result of these charges. I’m not making black and white judgements here…the situation is [expletive deleted] up all around.
When I read about the text messages, I couldn’t believe that they weren’t mentioned in WNCN’s story. Neither could the reddit community. Notice one of the top threads responding to the above information:
Suddenly other redditors started investigating the story more closely. One linked to an article explaining that the likely reason the toxicology report didn’t find abortion-inducing drugs in the girls system is because a test for those drugs does not exist.
I also learned that there’s an argument against the methods used by the medical expert who testified that the baby was born alive and then died. Slate quoted a pathologist who gives pretty convincing reasons to believe that the tests used during the autopsy of the baby are outdated and inconsistent.
It was interesting to follow the rest of the discussion from the reddit community. Generally it was a mix of pro-choice people still arguing in favor of Patel being let off the hook, regardless of what she did to her child, and other pro-choice people thanking the commenter who did the research to learn about the text messages.
[bctt tweet=”RT @EqualRightsInst: Confirmation bias leads to closed-mindedness and often false beliefs. – @JoshBrahm #prolife” via=”no”]
My brother Timothy and I have been talking a lot lately about the nature of confirmation bias. That’s where you only follow sources who already agree with you. So if you’re a liberal who only watches MSNBC, you are engaging in confirmation bias. If you’re a conservative who only watches Fox News, you are also engaging in confirmation bias. You’re not as justified in believing the things you hear unless you also weigh them against what intelligent people on the other side of the issue are saying.
Notice that engaging in confirmation bias doesn’t automatically make your beliefs wrong. It affects how confident you should be that you really know all of the important facts and that you understand the intelligent arguments that the other side has to offer. Confirmation bias leads to closed-mindedness and often false beliefs.
Here’s a great quotation from that comment thread against confirmation bias, from “mathurin1911”:
Here is the thing, I have a rule, if I disagree with a court ruling I must read the transcript, or at least the official summary of the evidence, before I speak on it.
I do this because so often I have found the media lies hardcore about court cases Example: Why wasn’t Trayvon Martins DNA found on Zimmerman? . . . Answer: because the police packed his clothes into evidence bags while they were still wet, and mildew destroyed the DNA in the bloodstains during storage, this was testified about during the trial.
How is that relevant to this case? I read many links before I ran into this one, they pretty much all include some phrasing about alleged abortion drugs taken and all indicate these drugs were not detected by a drug test. They don’t include the following.
The state also called a toxicologist to the witness stand Thursday. Metro Homicide Crime Scene Technician Tom Cameron told jurors about six search warrants used in the case against Patel.
He testified about September 2013, when he tested Purvi Patel’s blood samples for the two types of abortion drugs police say she ordered online and took a few days before she lost the baby.
That toxicologist said he did a lot of research and couldn’t find any scientifically reliable ways to test her blood for those drugs.
He then tried to do the test his own way and said he couldn’t find any traces in her system.
He also told jurors since that time he’s found out there are tests he could have done, but said it’s very unlikely he would have found traces of the drugs if she ingested them since neither of them last long in the human system.
Thats important information that might change how some people view the trial.
Further, they mentioned the police belief she had taken these drugs as if it was a half baked idea, at best they mention a text message, seems like there was an email as well.
But when questioning about those drugs became more involved, Defense Attorney Jeff Sanford objected, saying, “What the state is attempting to do is to use a text message…and a redacted [email from an online drug company], which says nothing. If they had something to connect her – some document, anything to show she received the drugs, that’s fine. But I don’t think they do.”
Meaning the defenses best defense is that, though they found an email indicating the order, they couldn’t prove she received the drugs.
[Authors note: Quote edited for spelling accuracy. I only included the first half of the quotation, pertaining to confirmation bias.]
But as you can see, knowing the actual text messages Patel sent and when she sent them paints a very different picture than what WNCN and these pro-choice organizations want people to believe. And I think that’s immoral. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I would love to see organizations on both sides of every issue do their best to reason honestly, especially when it comes down to simply telling all of the relevant facts about a given story. Trust me, I get just as upset when I see pro-life people doing the same thing.
The phrase “reason honestly” is in Equal Rights Institute’s mission statement. Here’s how we define it at our website:
Part of reasoning well is being willing to evaluate arguments honestly. It is very easy to go into an argument with your conclusion already decided, but doing this opens yourself up to self-deception. We encourage pro-life advocates to be open-minded, even about abortion. While this may sound like we aren’t confident that abortion is wrong, it is quite the opposite. One should only exhibit stubbornness and an unwillingness to go where truth leads if you’re afraid you’re wrong. We want to see productive dialogue between people who disagree, and open-mindedness makes productive dialogue possible.
Last November, ERI Training Director Timothy Brahm posted this Facebook status in response to the Ferguson controversy:
I have an opinion about whether the killing of Michael Brown was an act of self-defense or police brutality, but I consider it to be an ill-informed opinion. Most of my understanding of the controversy has come from reading sources that generally agree with me politically, so I should keep my opinion to myself until I change that.
However, I do have two very strong opinions that I am comfortable sharing:
1. Anyone that strives to be intellectually honest ought to actively fight against confirmation bias (the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritize information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs). If you haven’t carefully read and considered the reasoning of those who disagree with you, then you have no business making strong, confident statements on the subject.
2. Anyone that strives to be morally good ought not demonize people who have a differing view. The people who disagree with you may well be wrong, biased, foolish, or blind to the facts, but they probably don’t disagree with you because they’re evil. People are complicated, and our reasons for believing things are complicated.
My encouragement to you, the reader: Fight against confirmation bias. Start reading the smartest people on the opposite side of an issue than you, and be slow to post a story on Facebook when you don’t understand why people disagree. If you’re conservative, and you think people disagree about a story like this because they’re just evil baby-killing monsters, think again. If you’re liberal, and you think people disagree about a story like this because they’re just stupid religious zealots, think again. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that people and their views are more complicated than that. And if you aren’t afraid of the truth, you shouldn’t be hesitant about looking for it.
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- Confirmation bias leads to closed-mindedness and often false beliefs. – @JoshBrahm
- Pro-Choice Redditor Models Honest Reasoning by Exposing Media Bias Over Feticide Story
The post Pro-Choice Redditor Models Honest Reasoning by Exposing Media Bias Over Feticide Story originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Click here to subscribe via email and get exclusive access to a FREE MP3 of Josh Brahm’s speech, “Nine Faulty Pro-Life Arguments and Tactics.”
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Question: Have you noticed confirmation bias on your Facebook newsfeed lately? What are you doing to fight it?