VIII. Legalized Anonymous Infant Abandonment / Safe Haven Laws
What are Safe Haven Laws?
In an attempt to prevent unsafe abandonment of babies and neonaticide, over forty states have passed Safe Haven (sometimes called Baby Moses) laws since 1999. While statutes vary from state to state, most include the following provisions:
- Parent(s) or those designated by a parent(s) may anonymously drop off an “unwanted infant” at a Safe Haven center (hospital emergency room, fire station, police station).
- No questions are asked. No identification of parent(s) is required. No social or medical history of baby is required.
- Age of Safe Haven babies ranges from birth to five days; some states permit up to thirty days (South Dakota permits anonymous abandonment up to one year).
- In about half of the states immunity from prosecution for abandonment is granted to parent(s) if there is no evidence of abuse or neglect; in the other half, states allow affirmative defense to prosecution.
Are Safe Haven Laws Necessary and Do They Work?
- Despite their good intent there is no proof that Safe Havens are needed or that they work. Currently neither the federal government nor the states require statistical tracking of baby abandonments and neonaticides — even under most Safe Haven laws.
- A Lexus-Nexus search of newspapers for 1992 and 1997 commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that in 1992 sixty-five infants were found abandoned (fifty-seven live and eight dead) and in 1997 out of 3,880,894 births in the U.S. (including 18,507 neonatal deaths) only 105 newborns were abandoned (seventy-two live and thirty-three dead).
- Safe Haven laws mandate anonymity, so it is nearly impossible to gauge the personal situations of those who relinquish by this method; their state of mind, their fears and their motives. Unlike the “informed consent” clauses of abortion statutes, Safe Haven laws prohibit on-site required counseling, thus denying the parent(s) the opportunity to discuss conventional adoption plans, financial assistance programs and alternative care.
- No serious studies in the U.S. have been made on mothers who abandon or kill their newborns. Evidence suggests, however, that they suffer from a dissociative state in which the pregnancy is denied. Many suffer from substance abuse, mental disability and physical abuse at the hands of family members and boyfriends.
- Anecdotal evidence from those who work with at-risk girls and women as well as testimonies of women who have abandoned suggest that “baby dumpers” will not utilize Safe Haven programs.
Bastard Nation Opposes Safe Haven Laws Because These Laws:
- Deny the right of identity to infants abandoned “legally” and strip the infant of all genetic, medical and social history.
- Include few or no safeguards against third party intervention (father who doesn’t want responsibility, embarrassed grandparents).
- Ignore established birth parent revocation timeframes that permit a birth parent — usually the mother — to reclaim her child in a reasonable amount of time.
- Deny birth fathers due process.
- Contravene sections of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) which give tribes first custody rights in cases of child relinquishment.
- Deter adoption through traditional legal channels and replaces standard practice with what some Safe Haven advocates call “non-bureaucratic placement.”
- Discourage women from seeking pre-natal and post-natal medical care and counseling, thus endangering the health, well being, and even life of both the mother and the baby. In Florida receiving centers are prohibited from even asking women if they need care.
- Create legislative band-aid solution instead of addressing the root socioeconomic causes of baby abandonment and neonaticide: poverty, substance abuse, physical abuse, shame and mental illness.
- Reject long-standing best child welfare practice.
Bastard Nation believes that it is no coincidence that Safe Haven laws have been enacted just as the efforts of Bastard Nation and other adoptee civil rights activists have begun to overturn archaic state laws which seal our records from us. One prominent sealed records lobbyist wrote recently that “disappearing privacy rights [records access] has led most States to pass Safe Haven laws so that women and their babies have a life-saving option of anonymously taking a baby to a hospital or other safe place.” Safe Haven laws, we believe, are simply a tool to codify secret relinquishment and adoption.
Safe Haven laws, despite their good intent, are ultimately anti-adoptee, anti-adoption, anti-child, anti-woman and anti-family. They erase identities, deny the rights and due process of parents and reject time-tested best practice.
For more information about Safe Haven laws go to: Bastard Nation: Statement on Legalized Abandonment Laws.
Bastard Nation: What critics of baby abandonment laws are saying.