Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Modern New Mexican Neonaticide: Tranquilizing with This Jewel /the Torments of Confusion

Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Modern New Mexican Neonaticide: Tranquilizing with This Jewel /the Torments of Confusion

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The continuing incidence of neonaticide in modern America must give one pause.2 We live in a society where use of contraceptives is no longer illegal3 where abortion is technically legal4 and adoption services are widely available.5 Now, families realize that "even nice girls do it" outside the obligations of marriage,6 and children born to unmarried mothers arguably suffer less stigma than they ever before7

Still, girls and women persist in killing healthy, full-term babies. Sensational headlines treat each newly discovered infant murder as an anomaly, and homicide laws continue to ignore the gendered nature of the crime.8 Little American case law and no statutes deal directly with infanticide or neonaticide. Women generally are charged with homicide, if actively causing the child's death, and with negligence or abuse if they are more passive. Their sexual partners, who may walk away with no responsibility for the birth or its tragic consequences, remain legally invulnerable. Legislative proposals for "Baby Moses" or "Safe Haven" escapes have been adopted in some states, encouraging families to drop off unwanted babies with no consequences.9 Perhaps such statutes can prevent murder10 - if a neonaticidal mother somehow finds the presence of mind to seek refuge for the child she has denied expecting. Unfortunately, the statutes may give a false assurance that society is confronting the problem of murdering mothers without funding educational initiatives, prevention programs, or counseling for pregnant teens at high risk for becoming neonaticidal - those in denial about their pregnancy, and those isolated from supportive confidantes both able and willing to help guide them through procedural quagmires surrounding adoption and abortion. Further, they fail to address society's ambivalence about sexual activity11 and the ways girls 12 come to terms with that ambivalence - sometimes through neonaticide. These initiaves might also promote or support a false view of motherhood.

Basically, it is our belief that society, in its desire to preserve an illusion of "mother love", is hesitant to carefully scrutinize the mother-child relationship and recognize realistically that the most reasonable target for a, mother's frustration and anger is her child. Instead, to preserve our illusions about "mother love", we categorize women who murder their children as "insane."13

Girls at high risk for neonaticidal behavior can be identified by their experiences, life patterns, and psychological attributes so legislators and educators could identify them and offer preventive support. Because of common characteristics, one study has categorized neonaticides as falling within a discrete clinical entity,14 distinct in terms of motive, diagnosis and disposition of the murderer.15 Typically, neonaticidal mothers are young,16 unmarried," and are having their first pregnancies. One scholar character

ized them as having lived "protected" lives.18 They rarely have initiated their first sexual encounters.19 Generally, they have no previous criminal records20 and have not previously attempted abortion.21 Many are unaware of their pregnancy due to "gross hysterical denial,"22 and therefore do not premeditate their killings, intentionally conceal their pregnancies, or prepare for the birth of a child.23 Because they are unaware or do not believe they are pregnant, they regularly report menstruating throughout much of their pregnancies,24 and seek prenatal care only in the rarest of circumstances.

Their pregnancies surprise their families and their boyfriends, despite obvious external signs.26 Neonaticidal mothers report fear that they will be

banished from their families of origin if they are found to be pregnant out of wedlock.27 One study links an "unconscious incestuous attitude toward her father" and "unresolved oedipal feelings" with neonaticide,28 noting that in two cases studied, girls had been removed from their mothers and/or seen their mothers give their siblings away and feared rejection or abandonment. …

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