Safe Haven Laws
The battle over safe haven laws is heating up! These laws are intended to allow parents to leave their newborns at designated safe places, including hospitals and police stations, while guaranteeing those parents anonymity and freedom from prosecution. Sounds good huh? Read on. There are some serious issues.
First there was the excellent report by The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute – Unintended Consequences:
Safe Haven Laws are Causing Problems, Not Solving Them – which was critical of safe haven laws. Then noted columnist (and adoptive parent) Al Hunt wrote a hard hitting commentary in the Wall Street Journal praising Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle for vetoing a well meaning but ultimately flawed safe haven bill.
Finally longtime adoption gadfly William Pierce struck back at both the Donaldson report and Hunt in a vitriolic ad hominem discourse on About.com. A well-reasoned response on About.com addresses the issue from a birth father perspective.
I agree with Hunt and Donaldson. Most safe haven laws are ultimately anti-adoption because they sacrifice best practices in the rush to make it easier for birth parents to legally abandon their children. Instead of properly placing a child for adoption, parents are allowed to dump their children without fear of criminal prosecution. What the advocates of safe haven laws fail to understand is that prosecution for child abandonment is not an adoption issue at all but a criminal justice issue which should be addressed exclusively in the criminal law.
I’ll never forget when a well meaning but ill-advised safe haven advocate spent the afternoon with me several years ago at The Children’s Law Center in Washington, DC. After she finished her expensive glossy presentation on the merits of proposed safe haven legislation for the District of Columbia, I spent the next hour explaining to her that she needed to be speaking to the U.S. Attorney’s Office since the problem she was trying to solve was rooted not in the adoption code but in the criminal law.
There is no reason to abandon a proper adoption to spare someone a criminal conviction. Adoption is not just shuffling some papers and visiting a judge. It involves Constitutionally protected rights: the rights of birth fathers, birth mothers, relatives and even the child. I have no qualms about waiving the criminal law in order to facilitate a couple of adoptions. We should be very careful, however, when we create an incentive to bypass years of best practices (such as a full medical and social history, valid consents and Due Process) in our zeal to save babies.