The Journal Gazette
Monday, January 15, 2018 1:00 am

Proven alternative

Safe haven laws protect parents, newborns

Sherry Foushee

The National Safe Haven Alliance is a non-profit organization that supports all safe haven efforts, the foundation of the laws and lifesaving practices including surrender of a newborn at a hospital. Hospitals are an approved safe haven site in every state. A parent or agent may also relinquish a newborn at a fire station, police station or other approved site per individual state mandates.

But not all parents of newborns are aware of the legal provisions. This problem exists in Indiana, as well as all other states. In fact, last January, a newborn infant was abandoned at a church in North Vernon and fortunately was found by the pastor's wife before it was too late. If that parent had taken the baby to a hospital, the baby would have received immediate medical care – as well as the mother.

Indiana is facing another issue: the possibility of passing a bill that will allow additional baby boxes to be installed in our state (the first of two boxes in Indiana was placed at the Woodburn Fire Department in 2016). While this idea may be well intended, it is misguided. It opens a Pandora's box of unintended consequences.

One major problem with boxes is that they remove the opportunity for a mother to be offered the medical care and supportive services they are able to receive when a safe haven hospital is involved. Statistics show that 25 percent of parents who come to a safe haven planning to use the law choose to make either an adoption or parenting plan when given the opportunity to talk about options. What if a mother is in need of medical help and does not get it? What could happen?

Boxes remove any chance of personal contact. This means a mother is alone, contributing to her feeling frightened and guilty that she is doing something “bad.” She does not have the comfort of placing her baby into the arms of a real person who will give that infant immediate care. A mother using the safe haven law remembers, forever, the person to whom she hands her baby. She remembers these details because this is the person who reassures her that her baby will be OK. The mother will carry this with her the remainder of her life, and this makes her feel she made a responsible, loving decision for her baby.

Safe haven programs have saved more than 3,500 infants since the program's conception in 1999. The numbers are increasing each year as more people learn about the law. Now, after nearly two decades of ensuring women can safely and legally relinquish a baby and avoid prosecution, these boxes open up the chance a woman could be tracked down and arrested.

Imagine if the costs incurred in building, installing and maintaining baby boxes were instead used for an awareness campaign? How many more babies and mothers would be safely and legally saved?

We need to work to reach the women who need to learn that safe haven laws exist: signs at safe havens, teaching about the law in health classes, promoting websites, offering services for confused pregnant women who don't know where to turn, and many other proven measures that save lives – of both the baby land the mother.

Indiana has 170 hospitals and many, if not all, are equipped to take care of the needs of a safe haven baby without prosecution of the parent. The National Safe Haven Alliance will continue to promote this legal and lifesaving mission to save little ones in every state in this country.

Sherry Foushee, a resident of Columbus, Indiana, works with the National Safe Haven Alliance.

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