Safe Haven Laws: A Better Option

Safe Haven Laws: A Better Option

2019 | Week of April 22 | #1305

In 2015, I saw “The Drop Box,” a powerful film telling the story of South Korean Pastor Lee who one day found an abandoned infant on his church steps. He and his wife took the baby in. Pastor Lee knew there were thousands of babies in Seoul just like this one he had rescued; and he determined to do something about it.

So he built a drop box outside his church where people needing a safe place to do so could leave an infant. When the box was opened and a baby left, a bell would ring in Pastor Lee’s home. He would go immediately and rescue the child. He and his wife at one time had 17 “drop box” babies living with them in addition to their two biological children. Over time, news of the drop box spread and from 2009 to the present over 600 babies have been left in the drop box and placed in loving homes.

I wondered when I saw that film how long it would be before this idea caught someone’s attention in America generally and in Wisconsin specifically.  Apparently this is the time for Wisconsin.

Newly elected state Senator Dale Kooyenga, a Republican from Brookfield, has indicated he is going to introduce a bill known as the “Safe Haven Baby Box” bill, which according to news reports, ”would allow unwanted newborns to be dropped off in a secure safety box outside any medical center or law enforcement agency or fire department that would have them. If the bill becomes law, Wisconsin would become the fourth state in the nation to have Safe Haven Baby Boxes; following the states of Indiana, Ohio, and Arizona.”[1]

Senator Kooyenga reportedly has said these “Safe Haven Baby boxes” “’would be equipped with silent alarms that would notify first responders within 30 seconds” and “would keep the baby warm” for the minute or two the infant is in the box.[2]

It appears this bill is coming about because earlier this month the body of a newborn infant was found tied in a black plastic bag inside a car parked in a hospital parking lot in Marshfield. Those supporting this bill believe a “safe haven baby box” might have saved this baby’s life.

I’m not sure that’s true because I don’t know all the facts of this specific tragedy, but what I do know is that since 2001, Wisconsin has had a “safe haven” law.  Under this law, a parent can leave their unharmed newborn child under 72 hours old anonymously and without fear of prosecution with a law enforcement officer, an emergency medical staff person or a hospital staff member.

What I also believe is true is that many people in our state don’t know about this existing law. Since its inception, legislators have tweaked the law a bit, but the basics remain the same.  Unofficial records show that on average, 10 babies are relinquished statewide through the Safe Haven law each year.  That number seems very low.

Under current law, the baby has to be handed to a person authorized to accept the baby and if the parent wants to relinquish his or her child anonymously, the official taking the baby must attempt to get some basic information from the parent, including health background, whether the baby is harmed, and whether anyone is coercing the parent to give up the baby.

Senator Kooyenga’s bill it appears would remove the requirement to actually give the baby to a specific person. Obviously this increases the ability of a parent to remain completely anonymous in the relinquishment, but it also gives far less information to the person receiving the baby, information that could very much be in the child’s best interest in the future.

The details of this bill aren’t yet available and details are important. However, at minimum, it seems we need to do a better job of letting vulnerable parents know about the current law, including requiring teaching of the Safe Haven law in high school Human Growth and Development classes, requiring prominent posting of the law on all abortion referral and abortion provider buildings and websites, encouraging all pro-life individuals and organizations to raise awareness of our Safe Haven law, and creating fact sheets on the law that can be accessed online or printed and distributed.

Maybe Wisconsin needs and is ready for its own “baby drop box” law or maybe not. The truth is relinquishing a baby is a life-changing decision for both the baby and the parent—and is certainly a far better option than an abortion, a dumpster or a trash bag.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

[1] Accessed 4/22/2019.

[2] Ibid.

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