Although we support the lifesaving intent of proposed “safe haven” bills that allow parents to abandon their babies at hospitals, police stations and other emergency facilities without prosecution, the American Adoption Congress opposes these bills for the following reasons:
- Experience shows that the bills seldom work; rarely do they save the babies’ lives. The first of these bills became law in Texas on September 1, 1999. Since then, 34 other states have passed safe haven legislation. Yet babies continue to be abandoned in restrooms, in cars, and in dumpsters.
- All relinquished or abandoned children are entitled to the truth about themselves, including their birth histories, family medical histories, and social, ethnic and religious histories. Medical histories, in particular, are essential for the health of the children and all their descendants. Many of these bills require the parents to be anonymous to their children. These bills assume that depriving children of their identities will save their lives. There is no evidence to support this assumption, and much that contradicts it.
- Any such law should encourage or at least allow the birth parents of the child to volunteer information confidentially if either of them wants to so that it can be available to the child later. The vast majority of birth parents want their children to have such information later, even though they may not want anyone else to know of the birth.
- History has demonstrated that anonymity in child welfare and adoption leaves an open door for abuse and corruption. At the very least, any law allowing abandonment must ensure that the abandoned child has not been abducted, and that the person abandoning the child is the child's parent. Any law allowing abandonment should also require the collection of data on whether parents actually use hospitals and other “safe havens.”
- These bills are misguided because mothers who kill or abandon their children are so distraught that they are not likely to know or care about penalties and exemptions in a state's criminal code. We believe that the state and local authorities could save far more babies by increasing efforts to educate young people about the constructive options available to a young, unwed mother and by ensuring that counseling and support services are available to young women facing crisis pregnancies.
- Most of these bills leave unclear when and whether either of the baby's parents can reclaim the baby. Some of the bills actually prohibit a parent from reclaiming a baby; others place obstacles (such as the expense of genetic testing) in the path of a parent who wants to claim an “abandoned” child. This is inhumane. Given the mothers distraught state of mind and the lack of counseling for either parent, the parents should be allowed to reclaim the child up until the time of adoption unless the parents are found to be unfit, and the legitimate expenses of establishing parentage should be borne by the state.
Submitted by: Carolyn Hoard and Frederick F. Greenman, Jr., March 25, 2001
Revised: November 18, 2001