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Your Opinion: Extend protection for abandoned newborns

Your Opinion: Extend protection for abandoned newborns

April 25th, 2013 by Debby Howland, Jefferson City in News

Dear Editor:

Important information was published in the News Tribune on April 17 ("Bill allows more time to give up newborns") and as an editorial on April 18 regarding Sen. Ryan Silvey's proposed legislation (Senate Bill 256) related to Missouri's Safe Haven for Newborns statute.

Safe Haven laws across the country provide a legal option to birth parents who are unable or unwilling to raise a child and feel their only option is to abandon the baby. Relinquishing a newborn at a Safe Haven location ensures the baby is left in a safe place with those who can provide the immediate care needed for their safety and well-being.

The Safe Haven for Newborns law has been on the books for 10 years in Missouri and, as of 2012, the lives of 36 newborns have been saved in our state as a result of this statute. Sen. Silvey's bill seeks to expand the current law from 5 days to 45 days as the legal time limit for a newborn to be legally relinquished at a Safe Haven location without fear of prosecution.

Kaitlin Norton, 19, was criminally charged last year with abandoning her new baby under a pine tree in someone's front yard in Ellisville. Norton's lawyer reported that his client panicked after delivering the baby alone in the basement laundry room of her boyfriend's home. In behavior common to cases of infant abandonment, Norton had hidden the pregnancy and was likely unaware of Missouri's Safe Haven law.

It's hard to imagine a more heart-wrenching decision than that of a mother deciding to give up a new baby. But it's also hard to imagine a more tragic situation than a mother who harms, neglects or unsafely abandons her new baby because she is overwhelmed by the situation or feels unable to care for it.

Sen. Silvey's proposed legislation is an important step in the right direction as we strive to ensure that mothers of vulnerable newborns have more access to Missouri's Safe Haven law by expanding the time limit to 45 days. Finding a baby in a dumpster, a public restroom or under a tree is a tragedy and our state Legislature should make this life-saving bill a priority before the 2013 legislative session comes to an end.