Safe-haven laws: A safe haven for who?

Failure to recognize a mother’s needs may be the reason for relinquishing a child

Karly Kaufman
Staff Writer

Safe haven laws decriminalize the relinquishment of a child at permitted locations within days of giving birth. Safe haven laws were enacted across the country in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

These laws, however, fail to recognize the reason as to why mothers are giving their infants up in the first place.

The coverage of news on safe haven laws frame the narrative in a specific way to play with the emotions of its viewers. The idea of safe haven is to allow a mother a safe place to give up her child rather than finding another location to leave a baby. The public concern of being notified of the deaths of babies in trash cans, quarries, and the like created the so-called need for safe haven laws. Sites for a safe haven drop-off include fire stations, hospitals, and some churches. As for Minnesota, any hospital will take an infant up to three days old.

Safe haven laws are a reproductive justice issue as it is both a social justice and human rights framework. A woman’s age, race, class, immigration status, ethnicity, mental health and social support in her life are such factors that are missing when understanding why a mother chooses to relinquish her child. The laws themselves have a similar connotation to anti-abortion narratives, as the concern is primarily over the life of a baby.

Safe-haven laws do not address the need for change before a mother gives birth. They aren’t looking to create solutions, rather are trying to stop what problems new mothers face due to systematic oppressions. The laws portray women in terms of a good mother and a bad mother. The good mom will do what is right, which results in following her maternal instinct of caring for the child, and therefore she will bring her child to a safe haven site for a better life. The bad mom, however, is seen as a stereotypical low-income mother who is likely a person of color. This example of good mom/bad mom is belittling and disgraceful to any woman having to make the decision to give away a child.

In the case of Nebraska, revisions to their safe haven law in 2008 caused an even bigger problem. The law changed from relinquishing babies up to thirty days old to any child under the legal age of eighteen. Children of all ages were being relinquished at hospitals, some even traveling from outside state lines. In three months, thirty-three kids were dropped off to be fit for a better life. The concern of age limitations caused Nebraska to again reevaluate their law to accept infants up to thirty days after birth.

Laury Oaks, an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a scholar in the research of safe haven laws. Her book, “Giving Up Baby: Safe Haven Laws, Motherhood, and Reproductive Justice,” explains everything there is to know about the concerns of safe haven laws. While they ultimately do save lives, there are failing to recognize that women need just as much support emotionally, financially, and socially, as the safe haven babies.

Gabe Hewitt

Gabe is a junior mass media student at MSU. He's usually up for anything. You can find him on Twitter (@gabehewitt) or you can email him at gabriel.hewitt@mnsu.edu.

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