Medical Law & Ethics

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Safe Haven Law

The Save Haven laws which are also called the Baby Moses laws began in Texas in 1999. Since this time this law has expanded to other states; however, not all states have the same guidelines. The purpose of this law is to allow parents to surrender their newborn infant to a safe location, thus decreasing the number of abandoned infant deaths. Within this law, parents can stay anonymous and gives up their parental rights to the state without the fear of prosecution. One caveat, if the baby shows signs of abuse or neglect, the anonymity promised under the Safe Haven law is no longer afforded to that person.

Without solid far reaching statistics on infant abandonment prior to 1999, is a cause for concern. Is the Safe Haven law actually beneficial? Is it designed to protect the infant or are there other political agendas involved?

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Political agenda or infant protection

In 1999, Texas was the first of 47 states to pass a Safe Haven law allowing for the anonymous surrender of unwanted newborns at designated locations. However, state agencies do not systematically collect data on the number of illegally abandoned infants and infants legally surrendered under the law. Using the LexisNexis database of Texas newspapers, this study estimated the number of illegally abandoned and legally surrendered newborns younger than age 60 days in Texas, 1996 to 2006 and describes their demographic characteristics. Of 93 infants (53% male) identified during the study period, 82 were illegally abandoned (70% found alive) and 11 were legally surrendered. On average, 7.5 (range: 4-16) infants were illegally abandoned each year, with the greatest number found in 1999. Infants continued to be illegally abandoned following passage of the Safe Haven law. A statewide surveillance system should be implemented to evaluate this important public health problem.

It is unfortunate, but it may never be known exactly how many newborns are abandoned every year. A statistic that is often quoted is a 1998 study in which 108 newborns were reported abandoned, and of those, 33 died. This study was conducted by surveying a relatively small number of newspapers, and it is important to recognize that to be counted, the newspaper had to be large enough to be included in the study, and the newborn had to be found. In other words, this number significantly under represents the severity and scope of the problem.

There are oppositions to the Safe Haven law. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, when interviewing Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, he stated “We don’t appear to be saving babies,” he continues to report that the number of abandoned babies in unsafe places has not decreased in states where the law is already enforced. Another opposition to the Safe Haven laws claim babies who have been turned over to a safe haven location, do not have identities and have no information on medical history. Also, the birth mothers are left to deal with the guilt of abandoning their baby on their own. No counseling or guidance is given.

All states, since 2008, have adopted some form of the Safe Haven law. The guidelines of the law are different from state to state. Some states see the relinquishment as abandonment and they will file a court complaint. Other states view the law as a surrender or waiver of parental rights.

Prior to the establishment of the Safe Haven Law, statistics on measuring the abandonment of infants were not available. The Department of Health and Human Services reports for 1998 found 105 infants were abandoned and 33 of those infants were found dead. In 1991, 65 abandoned infants were reported of which eight for dead.

What leads to abandonment

Research on individuals who abandon infants, although very little data is available, found individuals to be very young, unmarred, physically healthy and the majority live at home; however, this issue can not be limited to a certain race, ethnicities, or incomes.

The driving factor to killing or abandoning infants include: rape, illegitimacy, extramarital paternity, and seeing the infant as an obstacle to future plans.

The condemnation that a woman faces when confronted with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy is a driving factor on what the future holds for the infant. Wealthy or underprivileged is not a driving factor in the decision for drastic choices that are made. It is a social issue do to peer pressure and driven by fear. Young women strive to fit in and that may result in a pregnancy. There are also victims of rape or incest that can not face having a baby to remind them of the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. Feeling the limited choices they have the fear of admitting the pregnancy far outweighs the decision to abandon the infant.

State to state

When Nebraska initially implemented the Safe Haven law they placed the age range to be up to 18-years-old. There was a lot of controversy over this factor; however, in 2008, Nebraska revised their law which now limits surrender to infants up to 30 days old. This is a longer age frame than most states allow.

Alabama limits infants to 3 days old and can be taken to a hospital or fire station, Connecticut allows infants up to 30 days to be surrendered. Delaware limit age to 14 days. The age range is from 3 days to 60 days and in Missouri they accept surrenders up to 1 year old. Most states consider hospitals, fire departments and law enforcement agencies to be safe have locations. Some are more restrictive on the location and even specify which hospital can be a safe haven sight. New Hampshire has safe haven locations at hospitals, 911 responders, police department, fire stations, and churches. New York’s Safe Haven law allows infants to be up to 30 days old and a responsible adult qualifies as a Safe Haven location. Some respond to the Safe Haven laws claiming it is more political than about the infants. They say it is a way to connect infant life to unborn life and infanticide to abortion. The claim is that this law will help lead to a reversal of Roe vs Wade.

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The nonprofit organization of Adoptions Together stresses differences of adoption vs. Safe Haven laws. They say that with abandonment the Safe Haven laws are good because the protect the infants from harm. However, they stress that the parent losses their rights regarding that infant forever. Their belief it is better to reach out to affected population with information about choosing adoption over abandonment. With adoption the parents can be helped in making the decision regarding their infant and future rights. Young women feel overwhelmed by the fear and emotions of finding yourself in the situation of and expected and unwanted pregnancy. They may have strong beliefs about abortion and this leads them to have very few options. When faced with the birth she may be so overwhelmed with fear that it is easier to abandon the child then to face their friends and family.


After researching the Safe Haven law and the issues that brought it into being. I do believe it is a good alternative for women who choose to surrender their infant. Even one infant saved by the law makes the law work. I understand some of the differing opinions about whether the law was humanity driven or politically driven takes a back set to the saving of a human’s life. We only know a tip of the iceberg in the abandonment problem. If an infant is not found then does that mean the infant was not abandoned? Society has fallen into such a perverse place that I would not be surprised if the issue of abandoned infants neglects the ones that have falling into a life of abuse.”

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Medical Law & Ethics. (2021, Apr 08). Retrieved from