What is Not Talked About
The late 1990s saw a surge in infant abandonment, many resulting in the baby’s death. In response to these incidents, a movement emerged to allow parents to relinquish custody of unharmed newborn infants without fear of prosecution. At the time, parents risked criminal prosecution for neglect or abandonment.
“Baby Safe Haven” laws or infant abandonment laws were created to remove the potential for prosecution so long as the infant is given unharmed and to proper authorities. Variations to these laws include limits on the infant’s age (ranging from 72 hours to one year) and the places or personnel authorized to accept an infant (e.g., hospital emergency room staff or emergency services personnel [ESP], such as emergency medical technicians, firefighters or law enforcement officers). Some states explicitly guarantee parental anonymity; others require personnel accepting an infant to inquire into the infant’s medical history. 1 Since the first safe-haven law was enacted in Texas in 1999, all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed safe-haven legislation, and every state has reported lives saved through the existence of these laws. Due to less-than-perfect reporting methods, the exact number of babies saved through the Safe Haven law in each state is unknown, but in the past decade these laws have saved well over 1,000 babies. 2
How prevalent is newborn abandonment still in the United States?
- According to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, 32 to 34 infants were found abandoned each year from 1997-1999. Of these, approximately 20 infants are abandoned in the first 24 hours of their life. 2
- According to a CNN review of FBI statistics, nearly five infants under the age of one are killed in the U.S. each week.
- The federal government and most states do not keep statistics specific to abandoned newborns. There is presently no way to clearly determine what portion of infant deaths are due to abandonment. 2
Currently, organizations such as The National Safe Haven Alliance work with states to promote these laws and increase public awareness that options exist for unplanned pregnancies. These organizations and states work together to save the lives of innocent infants and protect the lives of their mothers. Unfortunately, babies are still illegally and unsafely abandoned, in part because women do not know that they have the option of the Safe Haven Law. It is important that these laws are widely promoted and that women in need are assured that they are not alone.
How can I Help?
Encourage hospitals, medical facilities and other personnel to talk about the Safe Haven Law in your state. Simply print out public material from the Internet, and hang it around your community. Ask your local hospitals, where most babies are born, these questions:
- Is the Safe Haven Law talked about among hospital personnel?
- Are there visible flyers hung on the walls in or around the Maternity Wards of the hospital?
- Are brochures or some form of information regarding the Safe Haven Law easily accessible in the hospital for the mothers and the patients during their stay?
- Is detailed information on Safe Haven laws in your state handed to the mother during her hospital stay?
- Is detailed information on Safe Haven laws included in any paperwork or information given to the mother before leaving the hospital?
- What is the protocol for hospital personnel, and what resources and assistance are offered to a distraught mother who feels she cannot take her infant home with her due to unsafe circumstances?
* Use this chart as a guide for individual state variations of the Safe Haven law.
1. Guttmacher Institute. Infant Abandonment. 1 February 2015. 10 February 2015 <http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_IA.pdf>.
2. Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. Save Abandoned Babies. 2015. 10 February 2015 <www.saveabandonedbabies.org>.