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Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2001 / 17 Elul, 5761

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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NOW's goal: equal rights for women without equal responsibility

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ONCE again, the National Organization for Women is promoting a double standard. In its support for Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who confessed to drowning her five children in a bathtub, NOW is sending a very sexist message: When men kill their children or beat their wives, they're nasty thugs. When women kill, they're not responsible -- it's a hormonal thing.

NOW's goal: equal rights for women without equal responsibility.

The Yates' defense team contends that a postpartum psychosis led Yates to kill her children, thus she was criminally insane at the time of the murders. NOW has embraced that defense; NOW leaders are outraged that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. "From what we know right now, (Yates') psychosis is so obvious and her mental illness is so heart-wrenching that clearly she's entitled to treatment and not punishment," NOW Vice President Terry O'Neill told The Washington Post.

But is it obvious? Is it so obvious that NOW can make this determination before there has been a trial? Only a trial with a prosecutor and defense attorney can show whether she was -- or was not -- legally responsible for killing five people.

Yates' defenders claim that now that she is receiving top-drawer treatment and medication, she has improved. Her brother Andrew Kennedy told the Dallas Morning News, "I've never seen her this happy -- even 10 years ago, she wasn't this happy."

There goes the oft-expressed theory that the knowledge of what Andrea Yates did is punishment enough.

Her husband Russell Yates has blamed a doctor's decision to take Andrea Yates off the drug Haldol for the killings. Both parents seem to be skilled in blaming other people for their bad decisions; they come across like smokers who blame their doctor for not curing their lung cancer.

Andrea Yates reportedly had her first homicidal thought after her first child was born. After she tried to kill herself twice, a doctor advised the couple not to have more children. (As the Associated Press reported, Dr. Eileen Starbranch wrote, "Apparently patient and husband plan to have as many babies as nature will allow. This will surely guarantee future psychotic depression.") Knowing it was dangerous, the couple chose to have a fifth child.

That child, Mary, age 6 months, brought the victim total to five when she died with Luke, 2, Paul, 3, John, 5, and Noah, 7, who tried to run away and save himself.

Russell Yates has shown the brass to set up a website (www.yateskids.com) so that people can "visit" the children -- except you only get photographs because the children are dead. And there's also a pitch for donations to his wife's legal defense fund.

Last month, Katie Couric of the "Today" show told viewers how they could contribute to the fund. Rosie O'Donnell told "Good Morning America" she felt "overwhelming empathy" for Mother Yates.

What is it with women who are so busy relating to the mother that they feel no outrage over the fate of a little boy who ran for his life?

NOW President Kim Gandy told Fox News' Tony Snow: "I wish I knew more about (Yates') individual case. And at the same time, it's probably just as well that I don't because, from our point of view as an organization, we want to talk about the issue of postpartum psychosis and depression, and the fact that it needs more attention so that this doesn't happen to anyone else again."

Get it: NOW isn't that anxious to learn all the facts; facts might get in the way of a knee-jerk defense that says a woman who kills her children couldn't possibly be evil. Or, if she blames a hormonal imbalance, her defense is automatically legitimate. That's how NOW upholds a sexist stereotype that dictates that when a woman kills children, well, it's different than when a man murders his children.


Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.


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