I am not the biggest fan of NOW, but being the most recognized feminist organization in the United States, feel the need to come to NOW’s defense in this instance.
Jay Tea at Wizbang, in discussing the recent ruling to re-try and -sentence Andrea Yates, wonders:
It was really driven home to me this time, though, when it came out that the National Organization for Women had raised the funds for the appeal. Does NOW really want to be associated with a woman who murdered all five of her children?
It goes even deeper than that. I happen to be pro-choice on the abortion issue, as is NOW, but do they really want to leave themselves open to charges that they favor the right of women to kill their children on a whole new front?
Ignoring the implications of baby-killing and NOW in the pro-abortion rights movement, NOW does not support “the right of women to kill their children.” Thie difference between the abortion of an unviable fetus and the killing of five self-sustaining children is something I never hope to argue with a man who declares himself pro-choice. Bad choice of language, Jay Tea.
Yates, if a victim of anything, is a victim of bad medical care and of an illness that was not well-known or oft discussed until after her murder case broke the news. Post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis are now well-recognized as forms of serious illness that must be watched for, treated, and maintained after the birth of a child. Yates was considered by all experts in the trial, but for the expert whose testimony was rescinded, to be emotionally unwell and did not know right from wrong at the time of the killing. Add that she had been removed from her medication and was isolated from outside help by virtue of her family’s lifestyle, despite everyone knowing and later publicly acknowledging that she was unfit to watch the children, and this case becomes the ultimate tragic example of how poor medical treatment for mental health plays out in the most horrific ways.
NOW’s support for Yates was again and again announced by the organization to be an attempt to ensure that the judiciary, the medical community, and the culture-at-large “consider tragedies of this sort in the full context of the nature of postpartum depression,” and calls for more research into the illness. In addition, NOW took an official stance on the nature of this post-pregnancy condition where no official literature existed before.
Previously dismissed as the “baby blues,” postpartum depression is a virtually paralyzing condition of depression brought on by the onslaught of hormones and trauma on the body after the birth of a child. On the other hand, postpartum psychosis is recognized by the government as:
a very serious mental illness that can affect new mothers. This illness can happen quickly, often within the first 3 months after childbirth. Women can lose touch with reality, often having auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren’t actually happening, like a person talking) and delusions (seeing things differently from what they are). Visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there) are less common. Other symptoms include insomnia (not being able to sleep), feeling agitated (unsettled) and angry, and strange feelings and behaviors. Women who have postpartum psychosis need treatment right away and almost always need medication. Sometimes women are put into the hospital because they are at risk for hurting themselves or someone else.
Sounds like Andrea Yates.
Antepartum symptoms are often observed as well, as they were in the Yates case.
After the Yates trial broke, many women came forward on a public level to announce that they could, in some dark and often shameful way, sympathize with the illness and the outcome. Some admitted that they too had felt so unfit, depressed, and/or desperate, that they had thought about hurting their children. And then they often felt worse that they had had these uncontrollable thoughts and feelings at all. But the outcome of this public discussion became an important commentary on the isolation of parenthood, gender roles in marriage and parenting, household responsibilities, the importance of sound mental health, and the societal expectations of motherhood. Women were allowed to admit that good motherhood is not instinctual, but learned, and that it takes many women some time to bond with their children in truly meaningful ways.
One reason that the Yates case is so shocking on a gender level is because it smacks to the ground the notion that motherhood comes naturally.
Why does the testimony of Patrick Dietz matter? This comes to mind:
The effect of Dietz’ testimony was to give jurors the impression that Yates had killed the children believing she could escape responsibility by pretending to be insane, based on the non-existent episode of Law & Order.
As does this (from the comments of Wizbang):
The prosecution used it to impeach a defense expert witness, i.e., made the expert and her opinion look less credible. The implication was that the expert did not factor in that Yates got the idea from this program when rendering an opinion whether she knew right from wrong.
Then, in his closing, the prosecutor argued that Yates got the idea to kill her kids from the L&O episode she saw, therefore she had both premeditation, the necessary intent, and knew right from wrong. One problem: She never saw the episode because it does not exist…
[The courts] do overturn verdicts for insufficient evidence. An element of the offense that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is her mental state, i.e., premeditation, intent, etc. Except for Dietz, all the evidence from the experts was that she was nuts. If you subtract Dietz because his evidence was false, all you are left with is evidence that she did not know right from wrong.
Andrea Yates’ lawyers will not seek her freedom. Even if she wins the retrial, she will be under watch by the court system and will likely remain institutionalized for the majority of her life. In addition, if necessary, the state has the opportunity to try Yates for the death of two other children, an option they likely decided to guard in case of some unexpected turn during an appeal like this one.
NOW fought for the rights of this woman because it became apparent very quickly that she does not belong in a prison, but in a hospital. And unlike the assertions of those who commented at Wizbang that NOW supported the notion that “anyone at home with 5 kids would go crazy,” I have yet to find anything by any member of NOW that supports that assertion. These antequated and stereotypical renderings of mental illness do no one any favors, especially those in dire need of treatment for mental health.
If one good thing came from this tragedy, it is the new recognition of the necessity of women’s mental health in motherhood and in the postpartum period. I can’t think of much else to incite optimism whatsoever.