After hearing the Supreme Court, take a fresh look at safe haven laws for babies


Nicole Olson longed for a baby for years and went through a rigorous and emotional adoption process. Then Olson and her husband got a call asking if they would like to adopt a newborn baby. This day. As soon as possible.

The baby had been given up through a so-called safe-haven law. Such laws, which exist in every state, allow parents to keep a baby in a safe place without criminal prosecution. Laws began to be passed in state legislatures in the early 2000s in response to reports of gruesome killings and abandonment of babies that received widespread media attention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants are at greatest risk of being killed on the first day of their lives.

Olson rushed to a destination, filled four carts with baby supplies, and was home for dinner with the newborn boy. Ten years later, baby Olson and her husband Michael, named Porter, are thriving. He is athletic, fun and adjusted well after a tough time during the pandemic, Olson said.

Safe-haven laws attracted attention this month when US Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett raised her role in the abortion law debate. Barrett spoke this month during a hearing on a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of gestation – and possibly abortion rights enforced by the Roe v. Wade established and upheld by the court in 1973 to legalize abortions throughout the United States, turns the 1992 judgment in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Barrett, who has long personally spoken out against abortion, focused on a key argument against enforcement of female parenting and suggested that safe haven laws address these concerns. “Why don’t the safe-haven laws deal with this problem?” She asked.

Julie Rikelman, the attorney who argues against the Mississippi law, disproved that argument, saying that abortion law is not just about forced motherhood but also forced pregnancy.

“It poses unique physical demands and risks for women and affects their entire lives, their ability to look after other children, other family members, and their ability to work. And especially in Mississippi, these risks are alarmingly high, ”said Rikelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In a traditional adoption, a family knows who the mother is. You have her medical history and often have a relationship with her.

This is what Olson, a high school teacher from Phoenix, expected when she and her husband worked for a private agency after years of trying other avenues. Her then 7-year-old son Paul also longed for a sibling.

Michael Olson (left) and Nicole Olson (right) kiss their son Porter Olson (10) at their home in Phoenix on Thursday, December 17, 2021.  Porter was abandoned at birth by what is known as a Safe Harbor Act.  Safe-haven laws, which exist in every state, allow parents to keep a baby in a safe place with no criminal penalties.

But when they met their newborn baby, the couple did not know his exact date of birth, race, or any relevant medical information.

“We didn’t really know what we were getting into. It’s just one of those things that there’s an absolute leap of faith in, ”said Olson. “But I have a feeling that this applies to every child, regardless of whether they are natural or adopted.”

It is hard to find critics of safe haven laws, and proponents say it pays to save even a baby from death.

But some question its effectiveness.

Adam Pertman, president and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, said the effectiveness of the law, including preventing death, has not been adequately researched.

“It’s flawed from the start because a woman who puts her child in a trash can doesn’t see a sign instead and says, ‘Oh, I’ll go to the police instead,'” he said, adding: Woman is in this situation. ” not strong enough to make a decision or she wouldn’t throw her child in the trash can “.

Pertman said safe-haven laws neither meet the needs a woman might have if she were in such a crisis as to harm her child, nor do they provide resources for those in need.

Pertman says further restricting access to abortion or completely abolishing Roe v. Wade could lead to more children staying in safe havens rather than being adopted the traditional way – with medical backgrounds and thorough health information.

There’s no national database tracking the number of babies passed through safe haven laws, but the National Safe Haven Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes the laws and provides resources to parents in need, collects numbers each year from most of the states.

The Safe Haven sign hangs on a Chicago fire station in Chicago on Friday, December 10, 2021.  Just over 4,000 babies have been given away since the first Safe Haven Act was passed in 1999, according to both the National Safe Haven Alliance and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are reporting in 2020.  The law, which exists in different forms in each state, allows parents to leave a baby in a safe place without criminal prosecution.

Just over 4,000 babies have been handed over since the first law went into effect in 1999, according to both the organization and the CDC, which released a report in 2020.

The CDC found that the majority of infant homicides on the day of birth are committed by young, unmarried, uneducated mothers who have not received prenatal care and that they often give birth with a hidden, unplanned pregnancy and at home .

The study found that the overall infant homicide rate was 13% lower in the years since safe haven laws were passed nationwide. The study compared data from 1989 to 1998 with data from 2008 to 2017. By 2008, every state had safe-haven laws in place.

The number of babies killed on the first day of life fell by almost 67%, according to the study. But most of the murder victims were too old at the time of their death to be released to safe havens under the law. 11 states and Puerto Rico only allow infants 72 hours old or younger to be placed in a designated safe haven, while 19 states accept infants up to one month and other states have different age limits in their statutes.

The CDC recommends states “evaluate the effectiveness of their safe haven laws and other prevention strategies to ensure they are achieving the intended benefits of infant homicide prevention.”

A large majority of child welfare advocates praises safe haven laws, saying they keep babies alive and safe when a birth parent is unable to care for them. The babies are adopted quickly and rarely go into foster care.

However, many warn that the safe haven placement as an alternative to abortion is flawed: it does not take into account the health and economic risks a woman faces during pregnancy, nor does it consider the risks of childbirth in the country with the highest maternal mortality rate among the industrialized countries.

Olson is helping a safe haven law advocate organization that hopes more people will find out.

“The biggest message I have tried to send is that in a desperate situation someone is there to help,” said Olson.


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