A proposal to carve out a reduced penalty for a very limited type of infanticide is causing quite a furor in Texas.
The law being proposed by two state legislators would make postpartum disorder a legal defense for women who kill their children in the first 12 months of life. The defense would not come into play until after a conviction. Then, at the sentencing phase, jurors could hear mitigating expert testimony about the mother's mental state that could reduce the sentence to a state jail term.
Similar laws are on the books in 29 nations -- including Britain, Australia, and Canada -- but this would be the first in a U.S. state.
Currently, postpartum psychosis cases are very disjointed under the law; some women are found insane and go to mental hospitals, while others with almost identical crimes are found guilty of murder and go to prison. Women may still attempt an insanity defense if this law is passed, but it is difficult to prevail under the narrow legal theory of insanity.
It will be interesting to see whether the modest law passes. If it does, that will be a sign that the Hang 'em High state is becoming a kinder, gentler place.
It won't come easy, though. Since the legislation was proposed last week, Texas talk radio and the internet have been abuzz with amateur pundits who fear a wave of mothers murdering their children if they know they can get away with it.
What a joke. Most women who kill their children while in a state of postpartum psychosis or severe depression are so overwhelmed with guilt when they regain their senses that they can barely go on. Many commit suicide the first chance they get.
Readers will recall that Texas was the site of probably the most high-profile case of filicide in recent years. Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in the bathtub in 2001, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and remains psychiatrically hospitalized.
After that came Dee Schlosser, who in 2004 killed her daughter by cutting off her arms. Police found Schlosser soaked in blood and humming a hymn; she believed her deed was an offering to God. She too was found insane.
The Schlosser case may be making Texans especially prone to outrage at the moment. Just a few months ago, they learned Schlosser is being released from a state mental hospital, and some equate that to "getting away with murder." But as Lucy Puryear, MD, an expert witness at Yates' insanity trial, commented over at Women in Crime Ink:
Dee Schlosser will never live a carefree life. She must live with the knowledge and memory of killing her child. She will no longer be able to care for or have contact with her other children, and her marriage ended in divorce. What kind of life will she have? Can you imagine waking up every day to that horror?Puryear makes a good point. And probably most people would agree, when they think about it, that women like Schlosser and Yates aren't much of a danger to society. The problem is that people don't think. A mother killing her child triggers such visceral rage that the only color people see is red.
She is no longer psychotic, she is on medication, she will be monitored by a psychiatrist to make sure that she remains well. So why should she remain in the hospital; just so our sensibilities are appeased? That's a waste of money. Her being in the hospital does not protect you or your children. Dee Schlosser has no intention of coming to your house to cut off the arms of your child.
For further information:
- Text of the proposed legislation (HB 3318)
- Grits for Breakfast: Should postpartum psychosis be a legal defense?
- Postpartum Progress blog: Will Texas Be First State With An Infanticide Law?
- Dallas Morning News: Proposed Texas House bill would recognize postpartum psychosis as a defense for moms who kill infants