NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unintended Consequences of "Safe Haven" Laws

August 22, 2003

Laws that designate safe havens (hospitals, fire and police stations) where mothers can drop-off newborns with no questions asked -- rather than leaving them to be found or to die somewhere -- are misguided and ineffective, according to a study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Newborns aren't abandoned because the mother has no alternative, says the study; most of these mothers, usually unwed teens, "are so distraught or in denial that they act in panic rather than with the thoughtfulness required to take a newborn to a designated site."

In Texas, for example, according to the Houston Press, during the law's first two years, just five babies were dropped off at safe havens, while almost a hundred newborns were illegally discarded in the state.

Adam Pertman, of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, believes these laws actually promote abandonment, says Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal. Safe haven laws have serious negative consequences, says the study:

  • An upset family member, disgruntled boyfriend or others who have no legal rights can abandon babies without the mothers' consent.
  • Biological fathers are often deprived of their rights even if they want to raise the child, at the very time we insist fathers bear more responsibility for their children.
  • Most of these officially abandoned kids will not have access to their family-health records, denying them genealogical history and genetic information that can be vitally important.
  • Most of these children will never have the opportunity to locate their biological parents.

Over the past four years, 45 governors have signed such laws, but Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (D) recently vetoed such a law after considering the downside.

Source: Albert R. Hunt, "No Safe Haven," Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2003; "Unintended Consequences: 'Safe Haven' Laws are Causing Problems Not Preventing Them," March 10, 2003, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

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