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Abstract

Public opinion about neonaticide (the killing of a newborn within the first 24 hours of life) has varied across time and cultures. Some nations have passed legislation on behalf of maternal offenders with the assumption that childbirth, a time of unique biological change, may lead to mental disturbance. The United States, however, makes no such distinction; offenders are prosecuted under general homicide laws. Nevertheless, U.S. courts often consider a mother's emotional and physical condition prior to and during delivery. This study includes 44 female offenders and 45 infant deaths and highlights society's ambivalence toward neonaticide offenders. The authors suggest that this ambivalence may be attributed to: (1) the perception that an offender's emotional and physical turmoil during the birth and homicide reduces her culpability; (2) the sentiment that neonaticide offenders are more “redeemable” than other offenders; and (3) the uncertainty about the personhood of a fetus or newborn. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.