Nebraska Safe Haven Act Misses
was the last of the 50 states to pass a safe haven act, a movement
started a few years ago when there was a great deal of publicity about young
girls giving birth after a pregnancy they had kept secret, and then abandoning
the baby (sometimes alive, more often not) in a restroom, dumpster, or other
unfortunate place. State legislatures passed these acts very quickly, with
a lot of emotion. Opposition to the acts was negligible, and pretty much
unspeakable. Most such laws allowed for a newborn to be left, anonymously,
in a designated public place, such as a hospital or even a fire station.
The original intent was to prevent girls leaving babies in dumpsters or restrooms
out of fear of prosecution. Nothing was addressed about the need for prenatal
care, pregnancies kept secret out of fear and/or ignorance, or the childs
possible future need or desire to learn his/her heritage.
The American Adoption Congress and other adoption
groups raised the issue of anonymity not working in the childs best
interest, but the emotional climate was such that legislatures paid no attention.
Most of the laws specified an age limit, such as three days or two weeks,
after birth, when a child could be left without consequences. Some places
even set up a system where a baby could be deposited in a box, and a nurse
or someone would retrieve the child through an inside opening, sort of an
airlock situation. New Mexicos law stated ninety days, which made some
wonder what would be happening to the child in the first three months. It
also stated anyone could drop the baby off, so to speak, leaving the possibility
that angry birth grandparents, a birth father eager to get out of responsibility,
a nosy neighbor, or whoever had physical contact, might leave the baby at
such a place.
Most of these laws have had little effect,
as babies have not been left. New Mexico claimed one had, but the child had
been born at a local hospital and the mothers identity was known. These
laws were largely feel-good measures. Again, nothing was really said about
the need for prenatal care, counseling for birth parents, or a person, presumably
later adopted, needing or wanting to know who they really were.
When Nebraska initially passed its safe
haven law, due to the legislators inability to come to a consensus
in the issue, it did not specify an age limit. The result, as was widely
reported, was that up to 35 children, many of them teenagers, were abandoned
in the state, primarily by parents who could not support them or just
couldnt handle raising them anymore. None of the children were
Once these unintended consequences became apparent,
Nebraskas Legislature was called into special session to amend the
law, which now specifies a 30-day age limitation. Again, nothing was said
about the reasons a parent might be tempted to abandon a child, of whatever
age, any no one seems willing to look below the surface to examine the root
causes, which are poverty, fear, judgmentalism, lack of emotional and physical
resources, shame and ignorance.
There are still young people who literally
dont know how one becomes pregnant, thanks to bans on real education
about sexuality and physiology. There are still young women who become pregnant
by fathers, brothers, uncles, older neighbors, et al., who are terrified
to tell anyone. There are still young women who believe their parents will
kill them if they find out they are having sex, let alone that they are pregnant,
and these are not unrealistic fears. There are still many young women with
no access to medical care, no insurance, no funds, and no way to gain access
to the help they need. There are even some who do not know they are pregnant
until they give birth.
These young women are not reading up on safe
haven laws and making a plan to leave the baby at such a designated place.
If they knew how to do that, they might also know how to contact an adoption
agency or a doctor who could help them make a plan. These are not young women
who would choose to have abortions, because, again, they dont have
access to medical care or counseling, or may not know they are pregnant until
much too late.
These laws do not address these issues. As
for those who abandoned teenagers in Nebraska, again, where are the resources
in our society for counseling, for help with parenting, for financial aid,
even for food, shelter and clothing? This is not about a healthy, chubby-faced
infant being left in a paper bag and some loving family adopting the child
and living happily ever after, with the adoptee having no desire to know
more. Its about financial and emotional poverty, and a cultural poverty
that does not really support peoples real needs.
Until the Nebraska law brought the whole
safe haven idea back to the forefront, concerns about abandoned
babies had largely died down, and the laws were not much used, but the underlying
issues still remain. In a time of cost-cutting and loss of access to medical
care instead of increased help, perhaps each of us needs to contact our own
legislators and express our views about the real causes of the abandonment
of babies and children (including teenagers) and despair.
Excerpted from the January 2009
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2009 Operation Identity