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What are Safe Haven Laws?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2016
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Safe haven laws, which are sometimes called Baby Moses laws, are laws within certain US states that allow new mothers or sometimes fathers to leave unharmed newborns or young babies at places like police stations or hospitals. When safe haven laws are in place in a US state, which includes almost all of them, parents will not face prosecution for child abandonment, and in many states, parents may not even need to leave their name or personal information when they leave a baby.

These laws have been established because of the tragic upsurge in abandonment of newborns and even infanticide. A new mother who is terrified of having her motherhood status discovered or who is overwhelmed by motherhood may act in ways that endanger her child. This can include throwing out babies, leaving them abandoned in places where they are not likely to be discovered, or killing them prior to disposing of them. The gravity of committing infanticide or abandonment can catch up with these mothers and it may not only end the life of a newborn, but may also end the future of a mother who is not fully equipped or ready to care for a child.

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Laws within each state differ, and the crucial thing about any state that offers these laws is that information about them must be readily accessible. Safe haven laws will only work if a new mother knows they exist and knows exactly what to do if motherhood is unexpected or overwhelming. States that have enacted these laws see a reduction in infanticide and abandonment cases, and many babies appropriately left at a safe haven location are successfully adopted. In some states, mothers can rethink and get their infants back during a certain time period, at which point social services might be able to help the mother with support and education.

Age of the infant that can be left at a safe haven location can vary by state. Some states allow for mothers to leave children of up to a month old. Others do not accept children in safe haven status if they are older than three days. Not only are parents given immunity from charges of abandonment, but also people who act as safe haven providers are usually granted immunity from any potential harm that might come to the child. Most children given up to a safe haven provider are taken to hospitals and can receive medical treatment and testing without parental permission.

A few loopholes in state haven laws have led to unintended consequences. In the late 2000s, when Nebraska passed their state haven laws, they failed to specify age of children, and this led to some parents dropping off all their kids or teenagers at safe haven spots. Safe haven laws do have to be written carefully in order to prevent this and are mostly aimed at mothers who have children outside of a hospital and who lack any type of support.

Safe haven laws may prevent infant death and prosecution of mothers but they are not completely effective. In states where these laws have been passed there are still cases of infanticide and infant abandonment. Due to this, they cannot substitute for the critical need for appropriate education of young women and men before pregnancy takes place or progresses to labor without medical attention. Safe haven laws are usually the last resort and intervention to protect both mothers and their newborns, and shouldn't be considered as a total solution to the problem of child abandonment, unintended pregnancy, and infanticide.

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ddljohn
Post 3

@burcinc-- As far as I know, about 20 states in the U.S. ask for this information when taking the baby. But most states don't require this and sometimes don't even allow nurses to ask for this information. I think these states have a clause about anonymity in their safe haven laws.

burcinc
Post 2

When mothers leave their babies at designated places right after birth, do they also leave information about who the parents are, time of birth, place of birth, etc.?

I'm just curious if these babies will be able to learn about who their real parents were when they grow up.

turquoise
Post 1

I absolutely support states looking out for the welfare of infants. But I'm worried that these laws might at times promote the abandonment of infants instead of preventing it. Is it a good idea to forego all legal consequences to parents who choose to do this?

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