THURSDAY, MAY 25 UPDATE: Have you called your Illinois state senator? The vote could happen any time between this minute and May 31!
Before House Bill 1764 could be submitted to the Illinois Senate for a vote, the Senate’s Criminal Law Committee needed to approve it. Word came early this week that the Committee would meet on Tuesday, May 23. Dr. Susan Feingold, Barry Lewis and Bill Ryan traveled to Springfield to attend. Dr. Feingold testified and attorney Barry Lewis submitted written testimony with a legal brief in support.
The Committee approved the bill unanimously!
Now the full Senate is ready to vote. It could happen any time now-even on Memorial Day! But passage into law is not guaranteed. There has been some opposition and we don’t know how the vote will go. It is urgent for your state senator to know that constituents support HB 1764. Please take a few moments to contact them now. You can find their contact info. here.
“But for the grace of God go I. It could have happened to any of us,” Dr. Susan Benjamin Feingold said. We both paused, struck by the truth of her statement. We were talking about postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. We both have had personal experience.
Dr. Feingold is a psychologist based in Highland Park, Skokie and Chicago. She is a nationally renowned expert on perinatal (pregnancy and postpartum) disorders and the author of Happy Endings, New Beginnings: Navigating Postpartum Disorders, and has written extensively on the topic. She has also experienced postpartum depression. I believe that I had perinatal depression, but at the time I had no name for it, no idea what I was going through, and lived in a religious community where discussion was impossible and would have been met with shaming and platitudes.
I was one of the lucky ones. My depression lifted as quickly and mysteriously as it began. Typically, treatment is necessary and fortunately, it’s usually successful. Untreated, women may see the family life they had dreamed about unravel in despair and sometimes, in the rare circumstance of postpartum psychosis, in tragedies like infanticide.
House Bill 1764, currently pending in the Illinois Senate, is designed to prevent and address these life-shattering consequences. As Dr. Feingold explains, if the bill becomes law it will be the first in the United States specifically to allow “postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis to be considered as mitigating factors in the prosecution and sentencing of women who committed crimes while suffering from these illnesses.”
Bill Ryan, a retired Assistant Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Family and Child Services, has witnessed the destruction that makes the law necessary. In fact, he was the person who proposed the law, bringing it to his State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (83rd District), who ultimately sponsored it.
A regular visitor to the Lincoln Correctional Center in Logan County, Illinois, Bill has been a listening ear to many of the women incarcerated there. Over time, he heard a pattern. A number of women in that facility - he estimates 20 to 30 - are serving long-term or even lifetime convictions for crimes committed while they were suffering from a postpartum disorder. They just didn’t know it at the time or if they did, weren’t permitted to talk about it at trial. For these women, HB 1764 would permit a new hearing at which evidence of the postpartum disorder would be presented.
Dr. Feingold’s testimony, along with the testimony of Lita Simanis, LCSW, of the Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Program at Amita Health, have been instrumental in moving the proposed law through the Illinois legislature. But wait, why do these women deserve a second chance? Dr. Feingold is unequivocal. “When I heard about the [proposed law], I knew it was important to help lawmakers understand that these women need treatment and not punishment.”
Perinatal depression, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are not about the mom’s love or about the baby. These conditions have complex causes and are never the mom’s or of course, the child’s “fault.”
Postpartum depression is a serious illness, yet often is mistaken for a common condition known as “the baby blues,” which affects 75 to 80% of new mothers. Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, but often goes unrecognized and untreated. According to the World Health Organization, postpartum disorders affect 13% of women within a year of giving birth. Approximately 1-2 women out of 1,000 develop postpartum psychosis.
For some, postpartum depression comes on quickly, perhaps within days of birth. For others, it may only emerge in the following months. It is a complicated disorder caused by multiple factors including the chemical upheaval of going from pregnant to not-pregnant that can trigger a biochemical depression. Social stresses may worsen symptoms. There’s the significant lifestyle adjustment and if a woman has inadequate support, the emotional and physical demands can become overwhelming and unmanageable.
Postpartum psychosis is a related disorder, but different. According to Dr. Feingold, research suggests that the single strongest predictor is a history of bipolar disorder. In some cases, the postpartum hormonal shift can activate bipolar disorder for the first time in a susceptible individual. Psychosis can also occur without bipolar disorder. But every case of postpartum psychosis is entirely neurochemical. Although extremely rare, when the unfathomably tragic crimes of infanticide or attempted infanticide occur, it is most often a result of postpartum psychosis.
Yet when postpartum disorders have been a factor in crimes, women in Illinois and across the United States have not been allowed to raise it in court or have it considered in sentencing. Some women receive a death sentence or life imprisonment. Some take their own lives. Others endure their intense remorse without any way to understand what happened to their lives and all the promise they once had for the future. In most of these cases, the illness remains unaddressed and untreated.
In contrast, the United Kingdom, Canada and several European countries recognize the seriousness of postpartum disorders and the urgency of treatment. The United Kingdom’s Infanticide Act became law in 1922 and was extended in 1938. It emphasizes psychiatric treatment over incarceration. Canada and numerous other European countries followed with similar laws of their own.
According to Texas attorney George Parnham, who represented Andrea Yates, a bill similar to the proposed Illinois measure was introduced in the Texas legislature two sessions ago, but never made it to a vote. George was able to overturn Andrea Yates’ first degree murder conviction and successfully argue for a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” She is now hospitalized, in treatment for bipolar depression, and devotes her time to raising awareness of postpartum disorders.
Dr. Feingold says some may wonder whether an insanity defense obviates the need for HB1764. In consulting with Chicago defense attorney Barry Lewis, Feingold learned that a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity,” typically requires evidence of prior psychiatric problems. Yet women with postpartum depression or psychosis often have no prior psychiatric history. In fact, if the insanity defense were invoked, prior high functioning could be misleading and work against them.
If the Illinois measure succeeds, it will allow women specifically to raise postpartum disorders as a mitigating factor during trial and sentencing, and to receive treatment and rehabilitation. The law would give postpartum disorders parity with other forms of mental illness.
Women who have already been tried and convicted will have the opportunity to be re-heard. While a favorable decision can’t undo a tragedy, it can right the wrong of punishing an individual for an illness they could not prevent or control, and set them on a new path to a productive life.
If the law passes, supporters also hope it will prevent future tragedies by raising awareness of postpartum disorders. Illinois will become a national leader in the fight for recognition and effective treatment.
Back in April after the testimony of Dr. Feingold and other advocates, the Illinois House of Representatives approved the bill. The Illinois Senate is scheduled to vote on it before May 31. If it passes the Senate, it goes to Governor Rauner for his signature and becomes the first such law in the nation. Please call your state senator today and urge them to vote for House Bill 1764. It is a vote that will change lives and save them.
Find your Illinois State Senator here.
You can find more information about House Bill 1764 here.
To learn more about Dr. Feingold or to contact her, visit her web site: www.drsusanbfeingold.com
To learn more about perinatal depression or for help, contact:
Postpartum Support International (PSI): www.postpartum.net
Support line: 800-944-4PPD (4773)
Illinois Psychological Association (IPA): www.illinoispsychology.org
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