Texas passed a “Baby Moses” law permitting child abandonments in 1999, after 13 abandonments in the Houston area in 10 months caused a public outcry. Since then, the Christian Science Monitor reports, 45 states have adopted “safe haven” laws, allowing mothers to abandon newborns at hospitals and other designated places. They join a number of European countries with similar laws.
Now, as states – Wyoming, most recently – continue to legalize child abandonment, they are coming under fire. Though proponents mean well, critics say, the laws undermine child welfare policy – and after four years, there is no clear evidence that they are helping. “When I hear advocates say, ‘If it saves just one baby’s life, isn’t it worth it?’ I want to say: ‘Yes! Of course it’s worth it,’ ” says adoption expert Adam Pertman. “These cases pull so hard at our emotional heartstrings. But are these laws really saving babies? There’s no research that says they are. And are they doing anything for their mothers? Yeah: They’re sending them away.”
Only three states – Alaska, Nebraska, and Vermont – have not considered legalizing infant abandonment. Massachusetts is debating the issue, and Hawaii’s governor this month became the first to veto safe- haven legislation. The remaining 45 states almost all specify who can legally abandon a newborn (generally parents, though 13 states allow “agents”), where they can be left (at hospitals, often at police and fire stations and churches, and occasionally in the care of a responsible adult), how young the child must be (less than three days in many states, less than 30 days in others, and up to several months in a few), and what legal protection the surrendering parent can expect (immunity from prosecution in about half the states, and a defense if charges are brought in the others).