If lawmakers approve the measure, Texas would be the first state to have an infanticide law, said George Parnham, the Houston attorney who defended [Andrea] Yates.Dr. Lucy Puryear, who was a defense expert in Andrea Yates' murder case, has written on this subject over at Women in Crime Ink. I'd be interested to hear her take on the bill. See more background on the subject from Postpartum Support International.
"It's something every civilized country has on its books," said Parnham, a strong proponent of the legislation. "The only thing that will change public attitude is education about postpartum issues."
The bill, introduced earlier this month by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, applies to women who commit the crime within 12 months of giving birth. If jurors find a defendant guilty of murder, they can take testimony about postpartum issues into consideration during the trial's punishment phase.
If jurors believe that the woman's judgment was impaired as a result of childbirth or lactation, they can find her guilty of infanticide – a state jail felony that would carry a maximum punishment of two years in jail. ...
Postpartum depression is recognized as a legal defense in at least 29 nations, including Britain, which has had an infanticide law on the books 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. ...
Only one or two in 1,000 women develop postpartum psychosis that has been cited in high-profile cases like those of Schlosser, the Plano mother who killed her baby in 2004 by cutting off her arms, and Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children in 2001. Both women were found not guilty by reason of insanity and placed in mental-health treatment centers.
For every woman who receives treatment, there are 10 who are imprisoned for the crime, Stone said.
"These are not intentional acts," she said. "That's so hard for the public to grasp."
Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition that generally affects women with extreme sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations and a history of mental illness, Stone said.
MORE (3/24): From Postpartum Progress, and the Houston Press' Hairballs blog. And since I'd asked for Dr. Puryear's opinion, let me highlight these views she expressed in Grits' comments:
I don't know exactly what the bill says that has been proposed but I'm not sure I'm in favor of conducting a trial and then hearing evidence about postpartum issues that would mitigate the sentance. I AM in favor of what England has, which is when a mother kills a child less than one year of age, the mother is FIRST evaluated by mental health professionals and if found to be suffering from postpartum illness then she is given appropriate treatment. It IS a waste of time, talent, and money to put an otherwise well functioning woman through a lengthy and expensive court process when the issue is medical, not criminal. It would be akin to what is being proposed in Houston, a "mental health court" where persons with mental illness are treated and tried by those who understand the nature of mental illness and it's effect on behavior.
No, I am NOT saying that if you are mentally ill then you should never be held responsible for your behavior. I am saying that if you do not have "control" over your behavior due to your mental illness than your circumstances are different. It is like having a seizure. No one can stop a seizure from happening: the behavior is avolitional, including shaking, eye rolling, wetting your pants, and being confused for a time afterwards. And yes there is medication for seizures, and guess what? People who seizure also stop taking their medication, as do people with diabetes, or heart disease, or any other medical disorder that requires someone to be compliant and tolerate side effects.
I am ranting I realize.
Very few women who suffer from postpartum illness kill their children. Most kill themselves. And of those who do committ infanticide, most kill themselves when released from jail or the hospital. When they are well they can't live with the horror of their actions.
Well, I have to go help some more people with mental illness, otherwise you'd hear more from me. Thanks for listening.