Illinois has gone and done it. They enacted a new amendment to their Infant Abandonment Protection Act on January 1, 2010. Illinois changed its law so that infants 30 days or less can be anonymously dropped off at a state designated safe haven. The previous law allowed infants up to 7 days old to be dumped.
Ten years ago, the safe haven provisions were mandated for infants 72 hours old or less. Today there are 23 states, including Illinois, which have safe haven laws to "protect" babies up to 30 days of age. And listen to this. Some states go higher: Indiana 45 days; Kansas 45 days; New Mexico 90 days; North Dakota 365 days - yes, a whole year; South Dakota 60 days; and Texas 60 days.
Pardon me for being cynical, but I think that this latest round-up of older babies is to bolster the inventories of adoption agencies and attorneys. Prospective adoptive parents with big bank accounts are waiting in long lines for infants.
First of all, I do not support any Safe Haven law because I do not believe that the state should sanction the abandonment of children. That said, I am very angry that instead of trying different methods of protecting both mother and child, the state decided to expand its program by upping the age limit to 30 days.
It is my opinion that mothers of babies 2 or 3 or 4 weeks old should not be allowed to use the safe haven act - ever.
Dumping a baby anonymously and getting away with it all started in Texas with what we now call the Baby Moses Law. Their law said that infants up to 3 days old could be abandoned legally to a safe haven, where the mother need not identify herself at all; she could just leave the infant and disappear into the ether.
These original infant protection bills were enacted to prevent mothers from leaving their newborns in smelly garbage Dumpsters and on cold bathroom floors. Women who throw away their newborn babies are extremely mentally disturbed. They are so paralyzed by the crisis that their minds abandon all logic. Their capacity to reason has been so severely diminished that saving the life of the newborn is not uppermost in their minds. They don't care about criminal penalties. What they want is something - anything - to "make it go away."
In literature there is a writing technique called "Deus ex machina." In some ancient Greek drama, an apparently insolvable crisis was solved by the intervention of a god, often brought on stage by an elaborate piece of equipment. Today the term is still used for cases where an author uses some improbable plot device to work his or her way out of a difficult situation and make everything come out alright.
In the beginning, well intentioned but short sighted community members and good hearted but vulnerable legislators came together and came up with a deus ex machina ending for the problem of young women murdering their newborns. They put together a stupid plan that was supposed to save the infant. At the same time, however, the plan throws away the mother. Under all safe haven laws, the mother is quite dispensable; it's okay to discard her.
Illinois' new amendment gives a new mother an extra gift of time - 30 days. "To Keep or Not To Keep" - that is her question. Remember, children who are legally abandoned under the safe haven laws have their genetic, medical, and ethnic histories stolen from them at the front door of the safe haven.
What are social service agencies and adoption agencies and child welfare agencies for if not to help the confused or overwhelmed mother with a 2 or 3 or 4 week old baby? What about faith based organization or your pastor? Maybe the mother will benefit from parenting classes or a mother's helper. For some, counseling sessions may be the answer. Or possibly the baby may need to be placed into foster care temporarily. And of course, there is always adoption. These mothers already have many different options for help and a safe haven drop should never be one of them. These mothers should not be allowed to legally abandon a baby!
The Safe Haven motto throughout the United States has become " ...if it only saves one baby," probably one of the most successful and oft-repeated sound bytes ever heard in the adoption world. That motto created gale force winds which blew up tidal waves of infant protection laws. It drowned our nation in illogical and shameful safe haven acts. But hey, who doesn't want to save a baby?
Every time I pass through the portals of my local hospital, I see this Illinois Safe Haven sign posted at the entrance and I think, "That's one more mother we didn't save."
I found my statistics at the government website, http://www.childwelfare.gov/. They are good through July 2007 but it's the best I could do without a very tedious and time consuming search reading all the states' laws. I think I can assure you, though, that any states that have amended their law since 2007 have only amended them up in age. No state that I'm aware of has actually lowered the age limit.
I have not found very much record keeping from safe haven advocates. Probably the one person who has kept the most comprehensive statistics on Baby Dumps is Marley Greiner, Chair, Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization.