Jennifer Paluseo, 21, is serving a one-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter in the death of her newborn. In 2002, reports the Boston Globe, she gave birth to a baby boy in a dormitory shower stall, after a pregnancy she had kept secret. She wrapped the baby in a towel and tossed it into a trash can, where a janitor found it the next day. Preventing such outcomes is the intent of a new Massachusetts “safe haven” law that took effect Friday. The measure allows parents to abandon unwanted newborns at police and fire stations and hospitals without fear of prosecution. State officials hope that in the moment of panic when a mother decides she does not want her baby, she will take advantage of a law that could save her child’s life. Said said state Representative Barry R. Finegold, “If we can save one life, the law will be worth it.”
Others argue that women who abandon their babies often do not have the presence of mind to take advantage of the laws. “Safe haven laws on the face feel good,” said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, and a former reporter at The Boston Globe. “But they don’t reach the people they’re aimed at.” Critics of safe haven legislation argue that parents of unwanted babies who might otherwise find an alternative to dropping off their newborns — such as a well-planned adoption — could be tempted to use the “safe havens” as a quick solution.