Virginia expands safe haven law with hopes of saving more newborns

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Virginia legislators voted last week to extend the time frame during which a parent may surrender a newborn under the state’s safe haven law, and to launch a hotline for increasing awareness of the law’s existence.

According to the Virginia Mercury, lawmakers passed a total of four bills aimed at expanding the state’s safe haven laws. Three of the measures, introduced by Senators Frank Ruff and Mark Peake, extend the state’s 14-day limit for surrendering newborns to one month, and offer provisions for the state to install “newborn safety devices” like Safe Haven Baby Boxes. These boxes are temperature-controlled and alarmed, allowing a parent to surrender an infant without any face-to-face interaction. The fourth measure, introduced by Delegate Matt Farris, requires the Virginia Department of Social Services to establish a 24-hour hotline offering information about the safe haven laws, and to initiate a marketing campaign to alert Virginians of their availability.

Safe haven laws allow parents to surrender their newborns at a designated “safe haven” facility — generally a staffed hospital or fire department — without any legal ramifications. While every U.S. state has a safe haven law in place, the stipulations vary as to the age of the child being surrendered and the facilities/personnel to which a parent may surrender a child. In extending the time limit from 14 days to one month, Virginia increases the options available for new parents who, for whatever reason, may feel unable to care for their child.

READ: Spread the word: Desperate parents need to know that Safe Haven laws exist

While the laws can be controversial, they do save lives. According to the National Safe Haven Alliance, more than 4,500 babies have been saved so far nationwide. The Virginia Mercury reports that from 2018 to 2021, a total of 19 infants were surrendered in the state.

Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, spoke in favor of the new legislation. “I do believe whenever you give women greater access to assistance, information about how they can get the help they’re looking for and better information about how to care for their babies, different decisions are often made,” she said.

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