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Abandoned babies and state laws
By now, most of us have heard of Mariah Stevens — and the happy ending to the story of the beginning of her life.
Abandoned at a Federal Way church by her young frightened mother hours after birth, this child had a willing father to take her, along with a supportive extended family who has embraced her and the situation. Thank goodness.
The U.S. Department of Health estimates that close to 31,000 babies were abandoned in 1998. In 1999, after 13 highly publicized abandoned baby cases occurred in Texas, that state became the first to enact an abandoned baby law.
While they do not solve the problem of unwanted children, abandoned baby laws do provide a last ditch effort to save innocent lives in dire circumstances. When a desperate mother knows she can deliver a baby into safe hands without repercussion, she may make the choice to do so. If not, trash cans, dumpsters and anonymity can be the unfortunate result.
One problem with abandoned baby laws is that they cannot work if people do not know about them. Washington state has had such a law since April 2002, yet this young mother in our community was not aware of the specifics of where she could safely leave her baby.
With a proper media campaign, that information could be common knowledge in our state — but it’s not. In fact, in researching this article, I found it surprisingly difficult to find information about our state’s law on the Internet. Sure, it was in the news articles about Mariah, but what if I were a young frightened pregnant woman looking for options? It took several searches with several different wordings, and scrolling through the search results to find what I needed.
We can argue about whether it’s moral or ethical to abandoned one’s baby, but my bottom line is that, given a situation where a parent feels so hopeless and frantic about what to do that the parent is considering abandoning her child, I would much rather she took her baby to a hospital or fire station than resorting to throwing it away.
Let’s take a step back. Abandoned babies don’t start with a desperate mother giving birth. They start with all the decisions two people made that led to having sexual intercourse in the first place. Abandoned babies start with thinking that one has to have sex to be loved or cool or to please a partner or keep a relationship and not be alone. They start before that sexual encounter with decisions each person has made about what their values are and what role they want sex to play in their lives right now — or they start with not having thought through the situation at all.
I want youth to know everything they need to know to keep themselves safe and not get pregnant in the first place. That is why I’m a huge proponent of comprehensive sexuality education. And if we are not having these conversations, in depth, with every one of the youth in our community, then you can count on having the abandoned baby stories and discussions for a long time to come.
National safe haven hotlines: (877) 796-4673. Toll-free and no record of the call will appear on your telephone bill. Another: (877) 440-2229, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education class for eighth- and ninth-graders will begin in January at Wayside United Church of Christ. Open to the community. Registration required. Contact Amy Johnson via e-mail: email@example.com.