Houston Chronicle

Aug. 31, 2001, 9:55AM

Feminists using Yates case to attack motherhood

Houston Chronicle

The Texas National Organization for Women has helped establish the Andrea Pia Yates Support Coalition, a group of organizations that support confessed murderer Andrea Yates, the Clear Lake woman who systematically murdered all five of her children in their bathtub. Information on supporting the coalition has also been featured by Katie Couricon The Today Show.

Deborah Bell, the coalition's organizer and president of the Houston NOW chapter, said the coalition "may be some of the most important work of my life." She also explained: "One reason I am able to do so much for the coalition is that I am actually being paid a small amount from the Texas NOW State Chapter."

One of the coalition's "main points" is to let Yates know "that she is not alone, that there are thousands who care about her and that we will stand by her."

NOW's national office is laying low on the coalition established by one of its members and says that it is not directly involved. However, at NOW's national conference, members adopted a plan that will draw attention and increase money for medical research of postpartum depression, and help abolish the death penalty in related cases. Immediate past President Patricia Ireland named the Yates case as an example of the oppression of motherhood in which "women are imprisoned at home with their children."

Feminists have latched onto the Yates case to further their attack on motherhood and paint every mother as a potential -- but forgiven -- murderer. Feminist columnist Anna Quindlen wrote in her Newsweek column, "Every mother I've asked about the Yates case has the same reaction. She's appalled; she's aghast. And then she gets this look. And the look says that at some forbidden level she understands."

Feminists want Americans to believe that women are trapped by a "patriarchal society" and that we should have empathy for a mother who drowns all five of her children. They say we should understand Yates' dilemma because her situation and reaction is all too common.

Imagine if the same defense was applied to Nikolay Soltys, a California man who on Aug. 21 brutally stabbed his pregnant wife, 3-year-old son, two young cousins and his aunt and uncle. Should we be willing to believe that Soltys' reaction was provoked by the burden of being the family's breadwinner, coupled with the added stress of another child on the way? After all, millions of fathers are faced with a slumping economy that makes their salaries even more crucial to the family's finances.

Of course we wouldn't rally around this cold-blooded killer. Soltys was on the FBI's Most Wanted List before being captured Thursday and his actions are beyond defense.

In a time when women's roles and life choices are so diverse and numerous, it is absurd to declare them victims of an oppressive society. It is even more absurd to hold up Andrea Yates as a victim that deserves our empathy and support.

De Pasquale is program director of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute in Herndon, Va.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle