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Response to “Unintended Consequences” – “Safe Haven” Laws Are Causing Problems, Not Solving Them

Written by Marley Elizabeth Greiner
Executive Chair, Bastard Nation
Editor and Publisher, Baby Dump News:
An eChronicle of Baby Abandonment, Neonatacide, Safe Haven Legislation and Related Issues
Presented at:
Evan B. Donaldson Institute for Adoption
New York City
March 14, 2003

INTRODUCTION

Since 1999 over 40 states have enacted Safe Haven/Baby Moses legislation, which enables parents—usually women—to anonymously and legally abandon their babies with no questions asked.  As our mission to restore the right of identity to adopted people, Bastard Nation:  The Adoptee Rights Organization has been in the forefront of opposing unequivocally these laws.  We believe that legalized baby abandonment laws promote abandonment, run counter to established child welfare practices, statutes, and initiatives, and create a separate identity-stripping system.  We furthermore believe that the very existence of these laws is an attack on adoptee rights and open records activism—an attempt to codify anonymous birth and abandonment, where no such “legal right” existed before. The laws endanger the right of identity for all adopted persons, not just those who have been abandoned as babies, and are nothing but a tactic to perpetuate the sealed records/secret adoption system.

We believe that many Safe Haven advocates are well-intentioned, but either naïve or prone to simple solutions to complex problems.  In some respects, Safe Haven support is a grassroots effort. A whole cottage industry of moderately trained telephone counselors, and designated dumpers, aided by civic-minded businesses, advertising agencies, fundraisers, and radio and TV stations has grown up around local Safe Haven initiatives.  While these programs and campaigns can take on a life of their own, their impetus in large part has come from conservative and highly influential adoption lobbyists such as retired National Council for Adoption President and CEO Dr. William Pierce who for over 20 years has opposed identity rights and records access for adult adoptees.  It came as no surprise to us, then, when Dr. Pierce, complaining about “disappearing privacy rights in adoption” wrote last year that Safe Haven laws are a direct response to the successful movement to overturn outdated sealed records laws in the US.[1]

Unfortunately, the hidden Safe Haven/Baby Moses agenda is obscured by the feel-good rhetoric of baby saving  (If it saves just one….), a real lack of knowledge about what motivates women to dump or kill their newborns, and a genuine desire, often shadowed by political expediency, to help.

Below is an overview of Bastard Nation’s objections to Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws, some comments on the Unintended Consequences report, and our view of where the laws are going.

OBJECTIONS TO SAFE HAVEN/BABY MOSES LAWS

Our specific objections to Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws are that the laws in all or some states:

  • Deny the right of identity to the legally and anonymously abandoned infant; thus, stripping the infant of all genetic, medical, and social history.
  • Do not require that those “legally” abandoning their babies prove that they are the newborn’s parents.  Furthermore, parents may permit a designated dumper or “agent” to act on their behalf, although no proof of parental authorization is required.
  • Ignore birthmother consent revocation timeframes and make it more difficult for a parent to retrieve a safe havened baby than to retrieve a dangerously abandoned baby.[2]
  • Routinely deny the non-custodial parent (usually the father) due process.[3]
  • Contravene sections of the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) that gives tribes first custody rights in cases of child relinquishment.
  • Discourage relinquishment and adoption through traditional, legal channels, instead creating a government-sanctioned quick-fix, impulse consumer approach to child relinquishment.
  • Discourage pregnant women from seeking pre- and postnatal care and counseling; thus, endangering the health and well-being of the infant as well as the mother.[4]

Even if one or more of these problems—including anonymity—were removed, a myriad of problems and consequences would remain extant simply because baby dumping would be legally allowable.

RESPONSE TO REPORT

Public Awareness

We are pleased with the publication of the report and the national debate that it appears to have engendered, at least in the media, and hopefully amongst policy makers.  We view the report as a positive high profile first step in what we hope will become a public and professional debate on the ethics and efficacy of legalized baby abandonment that will result in serious reconsideration and ultimately the repeal of baby dump laws nationwide.

The report has brought to public attention many of the same objections that Bastard Nation and other opponents have argued over the last three years.  We agree with the report that the laws have been rushed into place with little thought or care to the consequences for baby or parent.  We also agree with the report that Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws are a superficial quick-fix for the very complex problems that cause most dangerous abandonment and neonaticde:  multi-vectored pregnancy, fear, shame, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence.  Like the authors, we recognize that there is a dearth of data on those who abandon or kill their newborns.  Even the number of dangerous infant abandonments, deaths—and now Safe Haven “relinquishments”—are difficult or impossible to determine due to poor or non-existent record keeping.[5]   In many states the only record of abandonments are found in newspapers.  Of course, the state-ordained secrecy inherent in legalized anonymous abandonment makes any kind of authentic analysis of dumps and dumpers extremely difficult.   Bastard Nation believes that research and data collection is mandatory for the creation of public policy that genuinely addresses dumping while at the same time guarantees that the state neither encourages nor facilitates an identity stripping separate (but unequal) child welfare system for the “chosen few.”

The report concludes, as we do, that the laws do not work, are harmful psychologically and physically to those abandoned as well as their parents (biological and adoptive) and create an atmosphere that encourages child abandonment, secrecy, irresponsible parental behavior, and poor child welfare practice.

Intervention

The report suggests that girls and women suspected at being “at risk” be weeded out by teachers, physicians, clergy and family members and subjected to some sort of professional “intervention.”  We believe that this strategy, as we have seen with Safe Haven “catches,” will attract those who might need some sort of practical support and counseling (public assistance, prenatal care, child care, education), and perhaps be open to adoption.  It will not, however, attract those in multi-vectored pregnancies and in denial who are genuinely at risk.  The truth is that babies will end up in canals, trash bins, and buried in backyards no matter how many intervention programs and how many Safe Haven drop-offs are in town because baby saving is not on their mothers’ agenda

Professional intervention in and of itself is troublesome, also, especially in the context of Safe Haven fix-ups proposed in the report.  Over 4,000 faith based “crisis pregnancy centers,” heavily funded by Federal grants and often affiliated with faith-based adoption agencies can be found in the United States today.  They would no doubt be in the forefront of intervention services where they would aggressively direct women into adoption and serve as a conduit into an inherently religious baby distribution network.  Not coincidently, for the last year, the virulently anti-adoptee rights National Council for Adoption, has been “training the trainer” through it’s Infant Adoption Awareness program.  Funded with a multi-million dollar federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, the program, as of February 2003, has trained more than 750 social workers, nurses and other professionals in Title X Clinics in the art of “raising adoption awareness” within the CPC environment and ultimately amongst thousands of center personnel and clients.[6] We believe that this  “awareness” includes an agenda of both sealed records and anonymous abandonment (if deemed “necessary) that in effect can turn CPC personnel into de facto and designated baby dumpers into their own adoption agencies or affiliates.

Public policy should be designed to prevent unintended pregnancies, protect infants at risk of abandonment, and assist mothers in making informed decisions that serve their children’s best interests.  That the authors of the report seem disturbed that only 3% of pregnant teenagers surrender their babies to adoption, a worry that strikes us as little different from the conservative adoption industry moan over the lack of newborns available for “deserving married couples.” We are concerned that the paternalistic interventions for “at-risk” women suggested in the report, and those most likely to be involved in directed counseling would do little more than feed babies to the sealed records adoption industry.

Repair or Repeal?

Bastard Nation believes, that the report did not go far enough in its analysis of Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws. We are disappointed that the authors did not acknowledge the very real political agenda behind the impetus of the laws:  the maintenance of the sealed records system. We believe the report, though highly critical of the system, may, in fact, encourage so-called improvements could promote public acceptance of baby dumping.

Specifically, Bastard Nation is deeply concerned that the report suggests the laws can be fixed—be made better– when they cannot.  We believe that many of the comments and recommendations made in the report can and will be used by Safe Haven advocates—as well as moderates and reformers–to “improve” without much question Safe Haven programs– not abolish them.  Consequently, “improvements” on laws, which the authors of the report themselves describe as “a separate child welfare framework,” could make the laws more palatable, building a legal bulwark against adoptee—not just the safe havened abandonee– rights to identity and records by codifying the right of anonymity where none existed before.

Bastard Nation and like-minded adoptee rights activists know too well the damage caused in the past 20 years by well-intentioned reformers who were willing to “fix” things by taking” baby steps” along the yellow brick road to open records.  Their happy acceptance of compromise legislation such as disclosure and contact vetoes, has made unrestricted access to our own records in some states today a near impossible task.   We do not want to revisit the Safe Haven issue 20 or 30 years from now.

THE FUTURE OF SAFE HAVENS

Bastard Nation is deeply concerned about the entrenchment of Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws in the child welfare system.  Although the current federal and state budget crises precludes implementation of some enhanced Safe Haven schemes, at least with public funds for the time-being, we believe we will see the following “improvements” over the next few years.  Some, in fact, have already begun or were part of the original laws in various states:

  • New or increased public funding for education and advertising such as brochures, PSAs, billboards, Dumpster and bumper stickers, public speaking, and even “Safe Haven Day celebrations.”[7]
  • Public funding for hotlines that go unused.[8]
  • Legislation and public funding for mandated how-to-abandon your baby units in the school curriculum.  California has already implemented such a program and the Illinois House is currently debating a bill to place baby dumping in grade, middle, and high school sex ed classes.[9]
  • Increased age limits up from 72 hours or a week to 30 days, 60 days, or more.
  • Drop-off points extended to non-medical facilities such as police stations, churches, adoptions agencies—even supermarkets, and “any responsible” person.[10]
  • Directed intervention and counseling into adoption programs via evangelical-based “crisis pregnancy centers” often affiliated with faith based adoption agencies, heavily funded by the Federal government.
  • Marketing of legalized abandonment under the consumer rubric of, what one Safe Haven/Baby Moses critic calls, “The Fourth Choice” thus legitimizing a practice abhorrent throughout history.
  • Programs based on the Vichy-era Accouchements des X laws in France that permit women who promise to put their babies up for adoption “instead of killing them” to give birth anonymously at tax payer expense through Medicaid or other federally funded programs.
  • Diversion of public monies earmarked for child welfare and child abuse programs into Safe Haven/Baby Moses programs.[11]
  • Introduction of US-based Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws and other anonymous birth programs overseas.[12]

CONCLUSION

Bastard Nation believes that Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws are detrimental to the health and well-being of women and their children, discourage pre- and postnatal care and counseling, deny the rights and due process of parents—especially fathers—and erase the identity of potential adoptees, throwing them into a secret adoption system.

We continue to oppose their enactment in the United States, Canada, and overseas.  We, furthermore, oppose Safe Haven collateral schemes such as an expansion of abandonment timeframes and locations, the introduction of abandonment “education” into the school curriculum, and the transfer of child welfare and child abuse funds into state-approved identity stripping programs.

We believe that Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws are nothing more than a backdoor attempt to codify anonymous and secret adoption that encourages unaccountability within the adoption industry and permits the questionable transfer of children from parents to strangers.  The laws not only prop up the dying sealed records system, but they create a state-backed system of identity stripping and blank records.

The cost of being “saved,” as Safe Haven proponents like to call it, should not be one’s identity, one’s history, one’s context. Under the already abysmal sealed records system most persons who are adopted have some reasonable hope or belief, (at least theoretically), that their identities and personal information exist somewhere and may be made available to them directly or through secondary information sources. Those who are legally abandoned under the auspices of Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws cannot hold even that spare expectation.  In the words of identity rights activist Ron Morgan, writing of France’s X laws,  “once the social welfare practice became institutionalized, it became normalized.”

Some things cannot be fixed.  Bastard Nation believes that Safe Haven/Baby Moses laws do not need to be improved.  Safe Haven laws need to be abolished.

The bottom line:  Safe Haven laws need to be legally abandoned!


1 William J. Pierce, “European Court of Human Rights may overturn French law that promised women confidentiality in adoption,” Extra! October 9, 2002,http://www.iavaan.org/Archives/2002/October%202002/EUROPEAN%20COURT%20OF… Dr. Pierce is also the Director of the Richard C. Stillman Foundation for Adoption which has given modest grants to the pioneering Baby Moses Project in Texas and AMT Children of Hope Foundation Infant Burial Fund, a Safe Haven powerhouse in New York State.  990-PF Form, IRS Return of Private Foundation, 2000, 10; Activity Report, The Richard C. Stillman Foundation  for Adoption 1996-1999, 10

2 John Sanko, Sue Lindsay, “Changes in abandoned baby law eyed,” Rocky Mountain News, December 5, 2001

3 L.L. Brasier, “Despite law, abandoned babies in legal limbo,” Detroit Free Press, January 30, 2002.

4 Donor Search in Vain for Adopted Child,” MelbournSunday Herald Sun, March 2, 2003.   Account of high profile search by American adoptive mother Linda Wells for the birth parents of her daughter Kailee.  Kailee, 6, suffers from aplastic anemia and  is not expected to live unless she receives a bone marrow transplant.  Wells traveled to China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Shanghai in an unsuccessful search for biological family members or other donors, after none were found in bone marrow databases.  Although Kailee is one of the thousands of little girls abandoned illegally each year in China, the case illustrates the health dangers inherent in anonymous legal abandonment in the US.

5 When the author attempted to gather statistics from selected states she could find no one in social services who could answer her questions.  In California she was switched to 6 separate offices; in Louisiana she was told that no such law existed there; and in New York a hotline operator (the only authority she could find that might assist her) told her that counties not the state maintained figures and that she would need to call each county.  Furthermore, figures vary from agency to agency.  In Colorado, for example, Denver Human Services reported that 4 babies in 2002 had been safe havened in that city alone, while Colorado Human Services said that in the two years the laws had been in existence, no babies in the entire state had been left under the law.  Bill Scanion, “Abandoned newborn is doing well,” Rocky Mountain News, December 3, 2002.  In California, the situation is even worse.  The number of 20 “saves” was reduced to 11 later when it was discovered that some of these babies were “boarder babies,” relinquished for adoption by new mothers at the hospitals in which they were born.  Diana Griego Erwin, “To Anguished Questions, Unwanted babies find a safe answer, “Sacramento Bee, November 7, 2002.

6 Infant Adoption Awareness, www.infantadopt.org .  For the CPC approach and promotion of adoption see Curtis J. Young, The Missing Piece:  Adoption Advocacy and Pregnancy Resource Centers. (Washington, DC), Family Research Council.  Young says the key to convincing women to relinquish is to “reposition adoption so that it is “no longer perceived as an unbearable loss and shameful action,” but an “heroic act of selflessness that serves to redeem her character and lay the groundwork for a better future.”

7 Governor Rod Blagojevich has declared April 4, 2003 as Illinois “Save Abandoned Babies Day.”  Save the Babies Foundation will hold a celebration in downtown Chicago to promote public awareness of the state’s Safe Have Law and commemorate the first Safe Haven catch.  Press release, Save the Babies Foundation, February 24, 2003.  Ironically according to the press, the mother of Illinois’s first catch had received adoption counseling and decided that she did not want to be an open adoption and opted to anonymously abandon.  Corina Curry, “Newborn left at hospital—legally, Rockland Register, April 11, 2002.  One wonders if she was ever presented with the closed adoption option.

8 Wendy Grossman, “Rock-a-baby bye-bye, Houston Press, April 25, 2002.  In Los Angeles County, officials launched a toll-free multilingual hotline with 40 operators speaking more than 160 languages.  “New hotline encourages use of safe havens for unwanted babies, Christina L.Esparza, Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2002.

9 Anne Marie Taveila, ”House panel votes to require teaching of abandoned baby law,”Chicago Herald Tribune, March 6, 2003.  On September 30, 2002, California Governor Gray Davis signed AB 2817 which would add Safe Haven education into the state’s school curriculum.   Marjie Lundstrom  “At last, state spreads the word about rescuing unwanted newborns,” Sacramento Bee, October 3, 2002.

10 “Baby abandonment laws revisions sought, Newsday, November 29, 2002, New York State Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffman is quoted as saying a listing of Safe Haven locations in the law would “limit the settings” where women could turn in their babies, and then suggested that a “busy supermarket” would be an acceptable drop-off place.

11 Marjie Lundstrom, “State panel poised to do good thing for babies in a bad budget year.” Sacramento Bee, May 16, 2002.

12 Since the “settlement” of Odviere v. France in the European Court of Human Rights, in which the court ruled that those born under X in France have no legal right to identity, Socialists and Greens have announced plans to push for anonymity laws in those countries.  “Anonymous birth legitimizes:  Children may not know who their leiblichen parents are,” The Standard, February 14, 2003; “European Union Court:  Anonymous births in principle legal, Leipziger VolkZeitung, February 13, 2003.    Senate Majority Leader Loren Legarda has introduced Safe Haven legislation into the Filipino Senate.  “Senate bill allows turnover of infants to care facilities,” ABS-CBN News, March 4, 2003.

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SAMPLE STATE ORGANIZATION RESOLUTION AGAINST VETOES AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS

SAMPLE STATE ORGANIZATION RESOLUTION AGAINST VETOES AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS

Any political organization seeking to enact true open records legislation should be very clear with both their constituents and the legislators they work with about what the essential provisions of the proposed bill are. Any modification or deletion of the essential provisions of a bill should be immediate cause to have the bill killed.

Any political organization seeking the assistance of Bastard Nation to pass open records legislation must hold unconditional access by adult adoptees to the original record of their birth as an essential provision that cannot be modified or deleted. Read our Mission Statement.

Bastard Nation will not assist any political organization to pass open records legislation unless their governing board or other leadership

passes a written resolution such as the following that commits the board to a strategy of no compromise on key provisions
informs its constituents of this commitment and this strategy
informs the sponsoring legislators of this commitment and this strategy.

WHEREAS we recognize that disclosure and contact vetoes, redactions, mandatory intermediaries and registry provisions are an affront to the dignity of adopted persons everywhere and a violation of their right to due process and equal treatment under the law,

WHEREAS there has been a demonstrable negative effect on the ability to pass unconditional open records in states that have passed veto legislation and/or any provisions that are less than unconditional access on demand by the adult adoptee,

WHEREAS our primary goal is to restore the right of adult adoptees everywhere to be treated as full citizens under the law,

WE HEREBY DECLARE that under no circumstances will we accept the addition of veto, redaction, intermediary, or registry provisions, or any conditional provisions to our legislation that would be less than unconditional access for adult adoptees to the original record of their birth. All legislative sponsors and members of this organization will be informed of our policy on this matter to ensure that the bill is pulled promptly in the event of such revisions.

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