'Baby Safe Haven' law will preserve young lives
IT MIGHT seem unthinkable for a young mother to abandon her newborn infant in a trash bin or on a doorstep, but imagine what it must be like to have just given birth and not have money, friends, family or resources to help take care of your baby. You have nowhere to turn, but if you abandon your baby, you will be a criminal.
House Bill 1830, CD1, the Baby Safe Haven bill, was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the 2007 Legislature. This bill will help to save the lives of newborns by providing immunity from prosecution to mothers who drop off an infant at a police or fire station or hospital during the critical 72 hours after birth.
Still, this bill faces a possible veto by Gov. Linda Lingle, who vetoed a similar measure in 2003. I urge the governor to allow the bill to become law.
Forty-seven other states have adopted "safe surrender" laws since 1999. The states that have not are Hawaii, Alaska and Nebraska.
On May 12, a newborn infant just hours old was found in a dumpster in Omaha, Neb. This child was lucky to have been found quickly, as doctors say that infants can survive only about 24 hours after birth without care. When or if the police find the mother, she will face criminal charges. States can avoid these tragedies by having baby safe haven laws, and if teens and young women are aware of their options.
In Hawaii, opponents who have blocked this bill seem to be missing the point. Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser, has stated that the bill has "the unintended consequence of encouraging parental irresponsibility." Rep. Corinne Ching said that someone "who would have gone to mom or dad instead will use this to avoid the repercussions of having a child."
If Smith or Ching were to come to my district in Kalihi or to any struggling area in the state, they would see that most of these young mothers are almost children themselves, and "mom or dad" might be missing, abusive or drug addicts. These poor girls have been backed into a corner, and their only option is to abandon the child and run. Rather than threaten prosecution, the responsible thing to do is to give the mother a way to save the life of the baby.
Here's what the law does:
» It provides immunity from prosecution for someone who leaves an unharmed newborn at a hospital, fire station or police station, or with emergency medical services personnel.
» It provides immunity from liability to the hospital, fire/police station or personnel who receive the newborn.
» It requires personnel to make a reasonable effort to obtain certain information pertaining to the child, including the family's medical history, from the person leaving the child.
One of the criticisms of the bill is that babies who are dropped off might never have the opportunity to know their birth parents or family history. This argument is moot if the child doesn't survive abandonment. However, the Department of Human Services will be able to reunite the baby with the parents given the information received at the time of the drop off. They also will have the authority to search for relatives of the newborn.
Our current child abandonment law is obsolete. Prosecution was intended to deter mothers from taking what was considered a reckless approach, but the reality is that newborns have suffered and died as a result.
It's time to take a different approach. The safety of the child should be our immediate concern, not the liability of the mother. While established adoption procedures might be preferable, baby safe haven laws provide an alternative that helps both mother and child. My conscience tells me that if we can save one life by this new law, it will be worth it.
Rep. John Mizuno, a Democrat, is vice chairman of the House Committee on Health.