Two babies made headlines earlier this month when each of them was safely surrendered by their parents under Safe Haven laws in their states. While Safe Haven laws — in which parents can anonymously surrender their infants of a certain age at specific locations including fire stations, police stations, hospitals, or at special baby boxes — are controversial, they are a proven way to save the lives of infants.
Safe Haven laws have saved thousands of lives
On May 2, a mother called the St. George Fire Department in Louisiana at about 2:00 a.m. She requested that a woman meet her outside in the parking lot to take her baby. According to WBRZ, a female communication officer met the woman who passed the newborn to her through a car window. The baby appeared to be about three hours old and in good health. Officials took the child to a nearby hospital.
Louisiana’s statewide Safe Baby Sites initiative allows parents who feel unable to care for their babies 60 days old and younger to surrender their children at designated locations, no questions asked.
That same day, a newborn girl was surrendered in Clarksville, Indiana, using a Safe Haven Baby Box installed at Clarksville Fire Station Number 1. At about 7:00 a.m., the baby girl was placed into the climate-controlled box, which immediately alerted firefighters to her presence. Less than a minute after being put in the baby box, a firefighter took her out and gave her some initial health checks before she was taken to the hospital.
“[Firefighters] get to experience a lot of the end of life, and yesterday, we experienced the beginning of life,” said Fire Chief Brandon Skaggs, adding that it was an emotional day. “The parents or parents of the child made a choice based on love and grace! With a dedicated team and available resources this choice has provided hope, love, and a life for this child,” he added.
Due to the waiting list of parents wishing to adopt, both babies are likely to find homes within 45 days, according to WAVE 3 News.
Babies born to parents who feel unable to provide care for their babies often resort to drastic measures, including leaving their babies in the garbage or on a doorstep. In tragic cases, babies have died from neglect or have been cruelly killed. Safe Haven laws instead allow parents to surrender their babies without having to reveal their identities. According to the National Safe Haven Alliance, more than 3,500 newborns have been safely handed over to authorities under Safe Haven laws.
Safe Haven laws help to avert terrible tragedies
It was two decades ago when police medic Tim Jaccard tried to help a baby girl, placenta still attached, who had been drowned in a toilet bowl in a New York courthouse building. He also found a baby girl suffocated and stashed in a plastic bag near an office building, a baby boy deceased in a recycling bin, and another buried in a backyard who had been dug up by a dog. As a result, Jaccard wrote the Abandoned Infant Protection Act. Texas was the first state to enact a Safe Haven law and now all 50 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws. Jaccard also runs a safe house for pregnant women in crisis.
“Abandonments are happening everywhere, but people are not aware of it because it’s not happening in their backyard,” said Monica Kelsey, a retired firefighter and medic who became the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes after learning at age 37 that she was abandoned two hours after her birth. “The fact that we have a safe haven law out there, that’s great that we’re saving infants, but for the ones we’re not saving, we need to figure out why.”
The controversy that exists surrounding the laws is in regards to the wellbeing of not just the babies, but the parents. The idea of placing a baby in a box is upsetting to many people, as is the idea that there are parents in such desperate situations that they feel abandoning their children is best.
“It’s horrific, the places that unsafely abandoned babies are left, and the idea of a helpless newborn being left, but it’s equally distressing to think about a woman or girl being in a situation where she doesn’t have social support during pregnancy or childbirth,” said Laury Oaks, a professor and chair of the Department of Feminist Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
While officials in Louisiana say they wish the mother in this recent case had given them information on family health history — vital information for a child to have — it must be understood that in dire situations this is next to impossible. To do so, these vulnerable women would have to reveal information about themselves and risk exposing their identity, possibly putting them in harm’s way. This could also put the child in a dangerous situation if the mother is surrendering him to protect him from an abusive parent or unsafe living situation.
Parents who abandon their babies in unsafe manners are desperate. Safe Haven laws allow them the ability to love their children by placing them with first responders. More must be done to spread awareness about these laws. Since the first Safe Haven law went into effect, more than 1,400 babies have been illegally abandoned, and only about a third of them have been found alive. It is clear that Safe Haven laws have saved babies who may have otherwise died.
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