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Legalized Abandonment: Safe Haven Laws

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A woman faced with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy has two options:

  • continue the pregnancy, or
  • not continue the pregnancy.

If abortion is not an option, she has two possibilities after giving birth:

  • to parent her child with or without help, or
  • not parent her child.

Until now, if parenting was not an option, there were others. Legal options included parenting assistance from family members, informal or formal guardianship, and adoption. Options outside the law included illegal adoption and abandonment.

Now, in 47 states, it appears that abandonment has moved over the line into the legal options available. Citing concern over abandoned newborns found in garbage dumpsters and public places, states are passing laws.

Varying Provisions


Texas House Bill 3423, which went into effect on September 1, 1999, was the first. The law allows a "parent or other person who is entitled to possess a child 30 days old or younger" to voluntarily leave that child in the possession of an emergency care provider. The abandoner is legally immune to prosecution as long as the child’s health was not endangered in the process of delivery.

Nowhere does the law require that the parent or person leaving the child identify her/himself. Nowhere does the law require that the parent or person leaving the child sign any document relinquishing parental rights. Nowhere does the law state that the parent or person leaving the child provide any familial medical information. Nowhere does the law provide for a change of mind within any period of time. And nowhere does the law require the state to try to obtain any information.

In Alabama, it’s called "A Secret Safe Place for Newborns" and program materials stress that there will be no questions asked. Newborns up to 72 hours old can be dropped off at emergency rooms of participating hospitals with total secrecy, and a guarantee that the police will not be called for abandonment. No identification, no signed relinquishment papers, no medical history.

Under the Minnesota program, called "A Safe Place for Newborns,", a mother can anonymously drop off an unharmed newborn without fear of prosecution. She will be asked to volunteer medical information, but not required to do so. No identification required, no signed relinquishment, no mandatory medical information.

However, both the Alabama and Minnesota programs include giving the mother an identity bracelet that will match her with her child in the event she changes her mind.

Other States Follow


Since the first law (Texas, 1999), 45 more states have passed, and others continue to propose, similar legislation.

Note: Many legal references are in .pdf format requiring an Adobe Acrobat Reader. Free download.

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