Spread the word: You don’t have to leave your newborn in a dumpster

There are enough options out there that it never has to happen.

This afternoon, around lunchtime, a newborn baby girl was found next to a dumpster in Colorado Springs. Thankfully, the baby – found by two women – was reportedly alert and is now being cared for.

The infant was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, according to police. She was in stable condition Wednesday afternoon, said Lt. Howard Black, who heads the special victims’ unit for the Colorado Springs Police Department. …

The tiny baby girl still had her newly-cut umbilical cord and was wrapped in an adult’s hospital gown, he [Nate Blanchette, apartment resident] said. She was awake and alert, he said.

This baby should be taken to a safe place – a hospital, health care facility, fire station, or police station – if his mother is unable to care for him.

Sadly, leaving newborns at or in dumpsters is not a rare occurrence. Of course, there are other locations where desperate mothers abandon their newborns, but dumpsters are commonly chosen. How tragic, that a newborn baby – the very picture of precious, new life – is dropped off to die at the same place old, rotten trash is dumped.

One of the major problems with these situations is that mothers have different options! They do not need to abandon their babies at dumpsters, in the woods, or on the side of the road if they are overwhelmed and feel that it is impossible to care for their newborns.

What’s a desperate mother to do?

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), there are laws in place in nearly every jurisdiction allowing mothers to drop off their newborns at a safe place with no fear of criminal charges:

Many State legislatures have enacted legislation to address infant abandonment and infanticide in response to a reported increase in the abandonment of infants. Beginning in Texas in 1999, ‘Baby Moses laws’ or infant safe haven laws have been enacted as an incentive for mothers in crisis to safely relinquish their babies to designated locations where the babies are protected and provided with medical care until a permanent home is found. Safe haven laws generally allow the parent, or an agent of the parent, to remain anonymous and to be shielded from prosecution for abandonment or neglect in exchange for surrendering the baby to a safe haven.

To date [May 2010], approximately 49 States and Puerto Rico have enacted safe haven legislation. The focus of these laws is protecting newborns. In approximately 13 States, infants who are 72 hours old or younger may be relinquished to a designated safe haven. Approximately 16 States and Puerto Rico accept infants up to 1 month old. Other States specify varying age limits in their statutes.

A number of states even allow mothers to reclaim their infants if they change their minds before adoption proceedings are finalized, and a few states allow fathers the option to claim their children as well:

Approximately 20 States have procedures in place for a parent to reclaim the infant, usually within a specified time period and before any petition to terminate parental rights has been granted. Five States also have provisions for a nonrelinquishing father to petition for custody of the child.

Where can babies be safely left?

You can find information about the particular laws in your state by reading this summary. The safe havens where mothers can drop off their infants typically include hospitals, health care facilities, police stations, and fire stations. Arizona, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont, and Puerto Rico even include churches as safe havens.

Colorado Safe Haven for Newborns is a Colorado organization that works to ensure that women hear about the state’s safe haven laws. They have a crisis hotline for mothers to call if needed: 1-888-510-BABY (2229). They also offer Spanish-speaking services for Colorado’s Hispanic population. Colorado Safe Haven for Newborns explains its purpose in existing:

During a two-week period in July 2004, three abandoned babies were found in the Denver area. All of the babies were dead. These mothers, in crisis, were unaware of the Safe Haven law. In November 2004, a group of concerned citizens formed the Colorado Safe Haven for Newborns organization to promote public awareness of the law. In December 2004, the organization was accepted as a project of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center, a 501 (c)(3) organization. Colorado Safe Haven for Newborns wants to ensure that every newborn baby is placed in a safe environment, that parents are free from a lifetime of guilt and incarceration, and that the community is free from the emotional and financial expense wrought by the tragedy of infant abandonment. It is also gratifying to know that an unwanted baby will fulfill the hopes of a family waiting to adopt a child.

According to this organization, the typical mother who abandons her newborn is “a 19-yr-old college student with no history of substance abuse or criminal activity. These desperate mothers isolate themselves, deny their pregnancies, and commit an unthinkable crime because they believe they have no alternative.”

So what can we do?

We can find out the exact safe haven law in our states and start telling our friends, acquaintances, and others about it. Spread the news through social media. Send a short e-mail to all of your contacts. Find out if your church will allow an announcement or a bulletin blurb. Check with your club, school, workplace, or other organization to see if there are available announcement boards or other public broadcast systems you can use.

We ought to be part of the public awareness campaign that lets desperate mothers know that there are safe places to leave their newborns. It’s up to us to spread the word so that one day, no babies are left to die at dumpsters. Because no baby – born or unborn – deserves to be thrown in with the trash. And every mother deserves to be told the whole truth about her life-giving options. These options are healthier for the babies and the mothers.

Join me in spreading the word about your state’s safe haven laws. Dumpsters are not the right places for babies!

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