After SCOTUS hearing, a new look at baby ‘safe haven’ laws | Kingman Daily Miner

PHOENIX – For years, Nicole Olson had dreamed of having a baby and had gone through a rigorous and emotional adoption process. Then Olson and her husband got a call asking if they wanted to adopt a newborn baby. That day. As soon as possible.

The baby had been abandoned by what is called a shelter law. Such laws, which exist in all states, allow parents to leave a baby in a safe place without criminal consequences. Laws began to be passed in state legislatures in the early 2000s in response to reports of horrific baby murders and abandonments, which received significant media attention. Infants are at the greatest risk of being killed during their first day of life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Olson rushed to a target, filled four carts with baby stuff, and was home with the newborn by dinner time. Ten years later, baby Olson and her husband Michael named Porter are thriving. He’s athletic, funny and has adapted well after a rough time during the pandemic, Olson said.

The shelter laws gained attention this month when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett spoke about the role they play in the abortion rights debate. Barrett made the comments during a hearing this month on a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy – and possibly overturn abortion rights established by the Roe v. Decision. Wade of 1973 legalizing abortion throughout the United States, and upheld by the court. 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Barrett, with a long history of personal opposition to abortion, focused on a key argument against forcing women into parenthood, suggesting that shelter laws address these concerns. “Why aren’t the shelter laws addressing this problem?” ” she asked.

Julie Rikelman, the lawyer who argued against the Mississippi law, refuted this argument, saying abortion rights are not just about forced motherhood, but forced pregnancy as well.

“It places unique physical demands and risks on women and, in fact, has an impact on their entire lives, on their ability to care for other children, other family members, on their ability to work. . And, in Mississippi in particular, these risks are alarming, ”said Rikelman, of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In a traditional adoption, a family knows who the mother is. They have her medical history and often have a relationship with her.

That’s what Olson, a Phoenix-area high school teacher, expected when she and her husband were working for a private agency after years of trying other avenues. Their son, Paul, who was 7 at the time, was also anxious to have a sibling.

But when they met their newborn, the couple did not know their exact date of birth, race, or any relevant medical information.

“We didn’t really know what we were walking into. It’s just one of those things where it’s a total leap of faith, ”Olson said. “But I feel like that’s true for any child, whether biological or adopted.”

Critics of safe shelter laws are hard to find, and advocates say if they save even a baby from death, they’re worth it.

But some question their effectiveness. Adam Pertman, chief executive officer of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, said the effectiveness of laws, including in preventing death, was not being sufficiently studied.

“It’s flawed from the start because a woman who puts her child in a trash can not instead see a sign and say ‘Oh, I’m going to go to the police station instead,'” he said, adding that a woman in this situation is “not convincing enough to make a decision, otherwise she would not put her child in the trash”.

Pertman said the shelter laws do not address the needs a woman might have if she finds herself in a crisis such as to injure her child, nor do they provide resources for someone. in need.

Pertman says restricting access to abortion further, or overturning Roe v. Wade, could result in more children being left in safe shelters and not adopted the traditional way – with medical histories and in-depth health information.

There is no national database that tracks the number of babies returned thanks to shelter laws, but the National Safe Haven Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes the laws and provides resources to parents in the need, collects numbers from most states each year.

Just over 4,000 babies have been returned since the first law came into effect in 1999, according to the organization and the CDC, which released a report in 2020.

The CDC found that the majority of infant homicides that take place on the day of birth are committed by young single mothers with lower education levels who had not sought antenatal care, and that they are often associated to a hidden and unplanned pregnancy and to give birth at home.

The study found that the overall infant homicide rate was 13% lower in the years following the passage of shelter laws nationwide. The study compared data from 1989 to 1998 to data from 2008 to 2017. Each state had passed shelter laws in 2008.

The number of babies killed in their first day of life fell almost 67%, according to the study. But most of the homicide victims were too old to have been abandoned under shelter laws at the time of their deaths. In 11 states and Puerto Rico, only infants aged 72 hours or younger can be placed in a designated shelter, while 19 states accept infants up to 1 month old, and other states have varying age limits. in their statutes.

The CDC recommends that states “evaluate the effectiveness of their shelter laws and other prevention strategies to ensure they are getting the desired benefits from preventing infant homicide.”

A vast majority of child protection advocates praise safe shelter laws, saying they keep babies alive and safe when a biological parent is unable to care for them . Babies are adopted quickly, rarely passing through foster families.

But many warn that shelter placement as an alternative to abortion is wrong: it does not take into account the health and economic risks a woman faces during pregnancy, nor the risks of childbirth in the midst of pregnancy. country with the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries.

Olson is helping an organization that advocates for shelter laws and hopes more people learn more about them.

“The biggest message I’ve tried to get across is that when you find yourself in dire straits, someone will be there to help you,” Olson said.

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