COMMENTARY: Newborn safe haven law revision smart policy
By Kevin Binversie
It is one of the most tragic things you can hear on your local evening news.
Police report finding the remains of a days-old newborn stuffed in a garbage dumpster, abandoned and discarded.
To help stop it, all 50 states and Puerto Rico passed what are commonly called safe haven laws. Texas was the first in 1999. Wisconsin passed it in 2001.
Under safe haven laws it is legally possible for new parents to relinquish custody of their infant at a hospital, fire station, police station, emergency medical center or, depending on the state, church and religious center. In Wisconsin safe haven currently applies to the first 72 hours after birth and applies to hospitals, hospital employees, fire fighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians, or EMTs.
Dropping off an infant is anonymous, no questions asked. The point of safe haven is not to judge, but to make sure a baby gets care.
Since its enactment in Wisconsin, more than 100 children have received safe haven care and new lives through adoption. Even with safe haven, parents abandoned 16 to 20 infants during the past decade, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Just before Thanksgiving, bipartisan state lawmakers signed onto a proposed revision of Wisconsin’s safe haven law. Under the revision, the 72-hour window is widened to 30 days and expands health care clinics to the list of places to leave an infant.
One of those lawmakers is freshman Assembly Republican Rep. Andre Jacque of Bellevue, who says the changes make Wisconsin more in line with other states revising their own safe haven laws.
“Wisconsin is one of 11 with the 72-hour window,” said Jacque. “By going to 30 days, Wisconsin gets in line with 16 other states with similar laws on the books. A 30-day time frame takes away the stress of what could be a rushed decision for some which could be associated with a 72-hour window. With more time, they might be able to find a parent or grandparent who can help them care for the child, get over postpartum depression or come to the realization it might be better to use the safe haven law.
“People who have been administering safe haven programs (have) been asking for this change so they can help save more children,” said Jacque. “Promoting the program and telling at-risk expectant mothers and couples about safe haven laws is often the biggest problem facing a child who might be abandoned.”
Promotion is under way throughout the state, with the heaviest concentration being in Milwaukee and surrounding parts of southeast Wisconsin. In 2008 alone, 15 newborns in the greater Milwaukee area were placed in homes through the safe haven law.
In June, Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams and his wife, Shantrell, took part in an event in Brookfield to promote Wisconsin’s safe haven program along with first lady Tonette Walker. Williams and his wife also made a public service announcement to promote awareness of the law.
Bringing a child into this world is a tough endeavor. Doing it on your own is even tougher. Safe haven laws help prevent child abandonments and promote adoption. They deserve to be heralded for the lives they’ve helped save and the families they’ve helped create.
Let’s improve this law in Wisconsin to best serve those implementing the medical programs that treat these babies, the social services that help find them good homes, the adoption agencies that help place them and, most of all, the babies saved.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at email@example.com.
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