For many people in Illinois, the birth of a newborn baby is a momentous event. However, some mothers and fathers may feel unprepared for this next step in their lives. Teen mothers, for example, may have hidden their pregnancy from their family and panic when they give birth. Even older mothers may find themselves in a difficult situation economically and decide that they cannot afford to care for the child. As a result, many of these parents try to pretend the pregnancy never happened and often abandon their babies in dumpsters where their chance of survival is slim.
Dawn Geras, founder of the charity, Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, learned that in Alabama, teen mothers were able to bring their newborns to local emergency rooms and legally abandon them. Concerned over the fate of unwanted infants in Illinois, Geras and a group of others wrote the first draft of a piece of legislation that was eventually passed as the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, commonly referred to as the Safe Haven Law.
That was 13 years ago. Under the law, parents may bring their infant to a hospital, a police station or even a firehouse within 30 days of the child’s birth. No questions will be asked of the infant and there are no legal actions taken against the parents. The infants are placed with couples and families, and eventually adopted. Lawmakers have made regular changes to the law over the years, requiring public schools to educate students in 6th through 9th grade about their options should they become pregnant, and setting up police stations on college campuses as a safe haven site.
While originally legislators were nervous about a safe haven law, there is no doubt that it has saved lives. Recently, Illinois received its 100th baby as well as two more. Still, Geras feels that more can be done. While dozens of babies have been saved, dozens more have been illegally abandoned. Since the law’s passing, 72 babies have been left in closets or garbage cans and many have not survived. One baby found recently in a dumpster was found just in time. Geras and her volunteers know that the only way to prevent the illegal abandonment of these infants is to go out and speak to the public about the law. They stress to young teens that they do not have to give their name when they surrender the infant and that there is a waiting list of couples who are ready to take these children and provide them with a loving home and family.