March 22, 2009

say it ain't so Texas!

Texas Could Be First State to Have Infanticide Law Bill would make postpartum disorder legal defense

Updated 2:15 PM CDT, Sun, Mar 22, 2009


Postpartum mental disorder could be used as a legal defense for women who kill their children under a bill introduced in the Legislature.

The bill was filed this month by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and it applies to women who commit the crime within a year of giving birth, The Dallas Morning News reported in Sunday editions. If jurors find a mother guilty of murder, they could take testimony about postpartum issues into consideration during the trial's punishment phase.

If jurors find that the woman's judgment was impaired because of childbirth or lactation, they could judge her guilty of infanticide, a state jail felony that would carry a maximum punishment of two years in jail.

If lawmakers approve the measure, Texas would become the first state to have an infanticide law, said George Parnham, the Houston attorney who defended Andrea Yates.

"It's something every civilized country has on its books," said Parnham, who supports the legislation. "The only thing that will change public attitude is education about postpartum issues."

McKinney attorney David Haynes, who defended Dena Schlosser, said Farrar's bill "recognizes the great stress that some mothers are under when they suffer from postpartum depression."

Yates drowned her five children -- ranging in age from 7 years to 6 months -- in June 2001 at her family's home in Houston. She was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2002.

An appeals court in 2005 overturned her conviction because of some erroneous testimony. Yates was found innocent by reason of insanity in July 2006 and sent to a state mental hospital.

Schlosser, who killed her 10-month-old daughter in 2004 by cutting off her arms with a kitchen knife, was recently released from the state mental hospital where she'd been sent after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Schlosser was released into outpatient treatment because her doctors believe she's mentally stable, a Collin County prosecutor has said. She is required to see a psychiatrist once a week, take medication, be on a physician-approved birth control and not have any unsupervised contact with children.

Shannon Edmonds, legislative liaison for the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, said the legislative proposal would have to be thoroughly reviewed.

"Anytime something novel like this is proposed," he said, "it needs to be fully vetted so that legislators can make informed decisions and be sure there are no unintended consequences."

Postpartum depression is recognized as a legal defense in at least 29 nations, including Britain, which has had an infanticide law since 1922.

"These countries have accepted the reality of postpartum mood disorders," said Susan Dowd Stone, chair of the President's Advisory Council for Postpartum Support International, a California-based advocacy group.

Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition that generally affects women with extreme sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations and a history of mental illness, Stone said.

"We do not want women who abuse children to use this defense," Stone said. "There are very clear guidelines for postpartum psychosis."

Even though Stone believes that women who suffer from postpartum disorder need treatment, not imprisonment, she recognizes that "infanticide with no jail time would not fly. Our country is not ready for that."

Copyright Associated Press


  1. "It's something every civilized country has on its books," said Parnham, who supports the legislation. "The only thing that will change public attitude is education about postpartum issues."

    every CIVILIZED country...
    how sickening that one would be considered 'civilized' because you have yet another excuse to kill babies. Get them in the womb or on the outside...the gov says it is okay.

  2. Oh. My. Goodness. That is a horrible proposal. Justifying killing your child because you have postpartum depression. Just give more excuses instead of just punishments for a heinous crime against a child. I really hope that it does not pass. If THAT is what a "CIVILIZED" country is, I do not want to live in one. I will stick with my backward way of thinking that killing a child no matter the cause is WRONG!

  3. Gosh, that is awful and yet, I know PPD firsthand. I never had thoughts of killing my children, but I wonder what would've happened next, had I not gotten treatment. Would I have been capable and so mentally disorted to do such a thing? It is scary to think that anything could have happened at that point. My reality was so disorted. There was nothing but pain and impending doom. Horrible uncontrollable thoughts, in my case, of self-harm. Left untreated, would I want to harm my children instead? I had not an ounce of love for them or my family members at that time. It is a terrible feeling. I tried to will that love and nothing would come. I was an huge, empty abyss that just went on and on. I just wanted to end. My mom had a dream that I was holding my baby and standing by a lake and I let her slip into the water. Terrifying because I could almost see it happening. Now, had I harmed my children, would I even want pardon for it? I don't think I could live with myself. If I did not take my own life, I certainly would want to be punished for what I had done. I don't think I could walk free and use the PPD as an excuse. However, people MUST MUST be aware of this disorder. It is very real and very serious. It took me almost 5 yrs to recover and I don't think I will ever be completely recovered. (It has now been 12 yrs) I have a strong empathy for these women. The children, thank God are at peace, but these women must live on with this. Please, pray for these women. Please pray for better treatment and doctors and family members who will watch out for this and DO something. The women are often too lost in it to do anything. Trust me, it completely takes over your every thought. Pray for them to save the children.


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