- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

As far back as the biblical story of Moses being placed in a basket by his Hebrew mother, left to “roll through the rushes” down the Nile to avoid certain death, we’ve heard of desperate women and girls abandoning their babies for myriad reasons. But you’ve got to worry about a newborn, with her umbilical cord still attached, coming into the world only to be left bruised, scratched and tick-infested under brush much less noble than a burning bush.

Imagine. Instead of bursting forth wrapped in pink booties and pastel bunting on her Fourth of July birthday, “Baby Liberty” was found wrapped in a shirt and left to die near a gritty construction site where nearby Laytonsville residents said foxes and other wild animals freely roam.

Some special delivery. Some firecracker. Some freedom. Let’s hope that Baby Liberty is destined for a loving couple who want to care for a rare rose. Four persons have called Montgomery County authorities offering to adopt her.

Whatever happens to the precious little package from this point on, we ought to insist that the abandoned baby, now a ward of the state, is not placed in the social services recycle bin. If her young mother is located, Montgomery authorities must take great care and supervision before reuniting Liberty with her family. At least Baby Liberty was found alive, if not well. Baby Vernon James Doe was discovered dead in a Mount Vernon creek June 8. It had been raining relentlessly for days. Neither his mother nor his father came forth to claim him before his ashes were buried at St. James Episcopal Church with dozens of sorrowful strangers looking on.

If only we cared as much about newborns and babies and toddlers and children in this country as we apparently do about unborn fetuses, maybe there would be fewer Baby Does discarded. We are lead to believe by the latest studies and statistics that out-of-wedlock births, particularly teen births, are declining. Then we hear these horror stories of young girls giving birth in bathrooms and backrooms and then dumping or drowning their so-called discarded babies. For if we are to save one newborn, this effort is worth a try. And, if we can save one young, unwed mother, all the better.

Enter the “safe haven” acts taking hold across the country. Maryland lawmakers enacted a safe-haven law in October. Virginia lawmakers followed suit in March.

According to Kyle Ramierez-Fry, senior staff assistant of the National Conference of State Legislators, 44 states have adopted infant safe-haven laws since 1999. In Hawaii, a measure was passed but vetoed. Alaska and Massachusetts are among those still considering such a bill.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 105 infants abandoned in public places in 1998; 33 were found dead. More recent statistics indicate that at least 161 were abandoned in 1999 and 2000; 103 of them dead.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler was instrumental in winning passage of the legislation, which he made a personal crusade after a young woman left her baby to die in a trash bin during a 1999 snowstorm.

“The law puts us in a better position to have a bouncy baby rather than a dead baby,” Mr. Gansler said yesterday. He could not disclose additional information about Baby Liberty’s case because it is not resolved.

Maryland law says an unharmed newborn can be turned into a responsible person, at a firehouse, police station or hospital within 72 hours of delivery and the mother will not be prosecuted.

Remember Tanisha Montague, a Jamaican teenager living in Germantown who was convicted of attempted murder? Her newborn, only hours old, was spared an unconscionable fate when neighbors heard the crying newborn amid the garbage bags a mere 15 minutes before the trash truck arrived. Remember the 12-year-old Manassas girl who wrapped a 6-pound,11-ounce baby girl in a plastic grocery bag and put her in the trash can in February 1999? Or the 17-year-old Fairfax girl who left her 7-pound,1-ounce baby girl barely breathing in a basket on top of a toilet in St. Agnes Catholic Church in Arlington in June 1999?

Does creating safe havens for unwanted newborns condone abandonment as some critics argue? No. “It’s only one alternative, albeit not the best alternative,” Mr. Gansler said, to make it easier for an abandoned baby to be put up for adoption anonymously. He added that the issues about identity and medical history are “far outweighed by keeping a baby alive.”

The argument that establishing safe havens encourages or even legalizes abandonment is defective. By virtue of establishing a safe haven, these mothers have an option to leaving a newborn in less-desirable environments such as the diaper shelf in a Denver grocery story. Besides, does anyone really believe that these young girls and women wantonly discard their offspring without conscience or consequence? No, the majority are young, scared and usually uneducated and uninformed, which is probably how they became pregnant in the first place. In any case, they must feel they have any other choice. Safe havens do more than provide a lifesaving alternative for newborns.

This outlet may also provide an initial contact with a hospital or social worker who may be able to coax a desperate young mother to obtain further assistance.

In any event, lawmakers must also accompany such legislation with adequate funds for hot lines and public service campaigns that publicize safe-haven programs to make them effective.

The larger issue, of course, is the dwindling but ever-present problem of preventing teens and young women from having unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Although we must continue to preach abstinence and personal responsibility, we must also take our heads out of the sand and grapple with the harsh realities of today.

Babies are still giving birth to babies.

And far too many newborns are left without life or liberty.

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