- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The D.C. Council on Tuesday passed a law allowing parents to surrender their newborn babies to hospitals if they feel they are unable to care for the children.

The unanimous passage makes the District the last jurisdiction in the country to adopt “safe haven” laws offering such protections.

“Although we've been fortunate and have not had to experience the staggering number of abandonments seen in other states prior to their implementation of their safe haven laws, we want to prevent this from becoming a problem here,” said council member Tommy Wells, who introduced the bill with council member David Catania.

“One newborn who loses its life by being abandoned in an unsafe location is one too many,” said Mr. Wells, Ward 6 Democrat.

A parent who wants to give up a child must drop off the infant within a week of the baby's birth. The Child and Family Services Agency will provide placement for the child after a hospital provides care.

“No one relishes the unfortunate occurrence that would leave a mother or a parent to relinquish the custody of their child, but I think we can all agree that the child would be better cared for at a hospital where it could receive the proper services and be handed over to Child and Family Services,” said Mr. Catania, at-large independent.

“It is better and it is preferable that that happens than a child be left on the side of the road or in a Dumpster - which is what happens when parents in distressed situations fear prosecution.”

Representatives of pro-life groups, who have argued on behalf of safe-haven laws across the country, said safe-haven laws provide needed options to desperate new parents.

“I would hope that it would have a positive correlation on abortion numbers,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of the department of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee. “We think that these laws are very good for mothers and good for their babies.”

Texas was the first state to initiate a Safe Haven program in 1999 after 13 infants were abandoned and died in the Houston area.

No such deaths have been reported in the D.C. area, although there have been cases of parents attempting to abandon their children at hospitals.

Officials say an 18-year-old mother tried to leave her baby in the emergency room of United Medical Center on Jan. 30.

“Many states around the country did not have the opportunity to do what the District had the opportunity to do here today with the passage of the Newborn Safe Haven Act of 2009,” said Mr. Wells. “And that is to be proactive.”

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