Unwanted babies need haven

March 09, 2001|By Barry Solomon and Holly J. Petracci

TANISHA MONTAGUE, reportedly unaware of her pregnancy, delivered a baby girl in the bathtub of her temporary residence in Germantown Jan. 26, 2000.

Hours later, the 19-year-old girl put the crying newborn in a plastic bag and placed her in a trash bin outside. Fortunately, her baby's cries were heard, and the infant was rescued. Ms. Montague, who says she panicked at the time of her baby's birth, was charged with attempted first-degree murder.

Unfortunately, many other abandoned infants' cries are not heard, and they are found dead. There has been a growing concern throughout the United States about these abandoned newborns. Since most states do not keep good enough track of these events, there is no way to determine the number of newborns abandoned each year.

But the number of cases we hear about in the news is thought to underestimate the problem.

Maryland is among 21 states considering "safe haven" bills in their legislatures this year. Fifteen other states have already passed such legislation. Bills creating the Maryland Safe Haven Act were heard by the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Under this legislation, the surrender of an infant and accompanying parental rights would take place at a hospital or other location followed by a medical evaluation of the infant. The parent(s) would be exempt from prosecution should the surrender be conducted according to protocol and the infant show no signs of abuse or neglect.

Adoption of the bills could lead to newborns being saved each year.

In states where similar legislation has passed, safe haven services appear to be working. It is considerably less expensive to treat a child who has been safely delivered to a licensed health-care provider than it is to treat a child who has been abandoned. Only the removal of the distraught parents' fear of prosecution will save the fragile lives of their babies. The Maryland Safe Haven Act, if adopted, will increase the awareness of infant abandonment and, it is hoped, prevent these tragedies from occurring.

Unfortunately, none of the currently proposed bills address the root of the problem -- why infants are abandoned.

We hope to see programs created for many at-risk parents. Such programs could provide information about adoption placement options, educate parents about existing social services and offer parenting classes to help them care for their babies.

Let's work together to pass this important piece of legislation.

Dr. Barry Solomon is a pediatrician and Holly J. Petracci is a pediatric nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital's Children's Center.

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