Andrea Yates, martyr?

Posted: Sep 10, 2001 12:00 AM
Responding to a question about Nickolay Soltys (the man accused of killing his pregnant wife, a 3-year-old son and other family members) on a CNN talk show, Karen Johnson, executive vice president of NOW, said her organization is interested in men who have mental illnesses, "But my concern is for Andrea Yates and for her defense, and for her safety, and for her health." The National Organization for Women has a moral screw loose. And it isn't just Johnson. The Texas chapter of that organization has announced plans for a candlelight vigil to express solidarity with Yates, in hopes of heading off plans by the prosecution to seek the death penalty in this case. Whether Yates is ultimately judged sane or insane, isn't there something repellent about expressing such sympathy for a woman who has methodically drowned her five children? This is not "The Burning Bed," or some other tale of an abused woman lashing back at an abusive husband after years of torture. This is a wrenching story of an adult committing the worst abuse possible against defenseless children -- her own children, who must naturally look to their mother for protection and love, and met instead horror, torture and death. Yates may have been crazy, but by no stretch of the imagination is she a victim. The feminist response to this case reveals just how distant they are from psychological and moral health. Patricia Ireland has instructed us that Yates was, like other victimized American women, "imprisoned at home with their children." For all their talk of "choices" we've always known that radical feminists have contempt for domesticity, and regard children as balls and chains. The Yates case is an opportunity to renew their war against full-time motherhood. Have you noticed how often people mention that Yates was "forced" to home-school her children? How better to discredit the millions of dedicated women who devote themselves utterly to their families? Katie Couric conducted a sympathetic interview with the alleged killer's mother and brother on the "Today" show. At the close of the discussion, the "Today" show flashed the name and address of Mrs. Yates' legal defense fund on screen, the better for viewers to express their support through cash. Pop icon Rosie O'Donnell, a mother of young children, has said she feels "overwhelming empathy" for Yates, and all and sundry seem to agree that this case is important because it will "raise awareness" of the terrible scourge of post-partum depression. But everyone already knows about post-partum depression. Many people know someone who has experienced it. In nearly all cases, it is temporary and mild. But what Yates allegedly suffered from was quite a different matter. She reportedly had post-partum
psychosis, a much rarer and more serious condition. She tried to kill herself twice in 1999 and had been given powerful psychiatric drugs. But even if Yates was insane -- and her lawyers are worried because she is now rallying under treatment in prison and may be declared fit for trial -- her illness did not prevent her from knowing the difference between right and wrong, and that is the test for the insanity defense in Texas. While feminists have been stepping forward to suggest that all stay-at-home mothers live perched on the edge of child murder, no one seems to have noted the culpability of the father in this tragedy. Who would continue to have children with a woman who goes crazier with each birth? Even if he did not suspect his wife of being capable of murder, what conscientious father would leave a suicidal woman alone with his five children? Suppose she had cut her throat in front of them? (She had tried.) If these were anyone's children but his own, wouldn't he be found at least civilly liable for reckless endangerment? In our all-too-forgiving society, we are keen to "raise awareness" of this and that ailment, but less and less willing to censure and shame. It may be that tragedies like this one cannot be avoided. But it is also possible that the warm balm of understanding we extend to those who commit horrific crimes goes a long way toward explaining why we have so many of them.