Safe-Haven Law

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorCollege, Undergraduate February 2008

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On the night of June 18, 2005, Tessa Leavitt was born in a cold, hard, motel bathtub. Her birth mother fed her and cut the umbilical cord. A day later she wrapped her in a towel and took her to Fire Station 15 in Whittier, California under the safe-haven law according to the article, "A Mother's Choice," in Time Magazine. This law allows parents to evade prosecution for abandoning newborns under 72 hours old by taking them to staff members of emergency rooms or other approved places, such as fire stations. However, in California, a bill was recently passed by the legislature that would extend the deadline to 30 days. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill. This has brought about debate over whether such terms actually protects babies or encourages parents to abandon them.

Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute stated in Time Magazine, "These laws are persuading women who wouldn't have abandoned their babies in any form to do so."

Challengers of the safe-haven law believe the law is not effective and may actually increase the number of children given away. From his perspective, allowing 27 additional days for parents to consider whether or not they want to keep their child allows heavy contemplation on the thought of life without their child versus being obligated to accept full responsibility after day three of the grace period. In Time, Don Knabe, supervisor of the Los Angeles County board, urged Schwarzenegger to keep the three-day law intact. He claimed that pushing parents to make an early decision ensures that unwanted infants get the medical attention they need, and dissuades parents from abusing a baby for days then waiting for the bruises to heal before giving up the infant. In other words, by allowing only three days, parents are more apt to make their decision early on to give up their infant while it is still healthy and unharmed.

"The reality of raising a baby really dawns on you once you get it home," said Alberto Terrico, in Time Magazine, the state assembly man who sponsored California's 30-day extension. He and other supporters of the safe-haven law argued that parents should have sufficient time to decide if they are fit. With first time parents, adding a newborn into the picture would mean late nights, self deprivation, and stress. This could lead to a condition known as post mortem depression where parents tend to reject their child and in the end may lead to harm or even death of the newborn. For instance, a couple who had just given birth to a beautiful baby suddenly fell apart and separated two weeks after delivery. The man leaves his terrified girlfriend to raise the infant as a single parent. She is depressed and in a state not healthy for raising a child. The baby is constantly crying and needing her attention but she is going into a deep depression trying to deal with her problems and the baby's needs at the same time. Voices in her head are urging her to abandon the helpless baby by taking it to the nearby dumpster, woods, or river. She wants to get rid of the screaming child as quickly as possible. At this point, the 3-day grace period has passed, however, if the 30-day extended bill is signed by the governor; the mother would be within her rights of the safe-haven law to take the baby to an emergency room or approved location. So by providing an alternative for parents who attempt to keep their babies but become extremely overwhelmed will play a major role in the illegal abandonment of newborns.

The safe-haven law could allow parents 3 days or 30 days to safely give up their newborns. Nevertheless, I believe it's better than no days at all. An alternative such as this law may lower the number of infants being found in dumpsters or dead in their own homes. The 3-day law will work for parents who know prior to or immediately after the baby is born. On the other hand, the 30-day law will allow individuals time to decide whether or not parenting is suitable for them. It is also a protection blanket for the harmless and innocent children who are unwanted and abused by unwilling and unfit parents. "It is better to meet danger than to wait for it. He that is on a lee shore, and foresees a hurricane, stands out to sea and encounters a storm to avoid a shipwreck" (Charles Caleb Colton).

In closing, it is my belief that there is no correct answer to this question. It depends on the parent's situation as stated in the above paragraph. After all, giving the infant a chance at a normal, healthy life is what really matters.