Committee OKs bill on havens for newborns

Measure would shield mothers who abandon babies in `safe' spots

March 10, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Hoping to save unwanted babies' lives, a House of Delegates committee approved a bill last night exempting mothers from prosecution if they abandon a newborn or infant in a "haven" such as a police station or hospital.

The bill, endorsed overwhelmingly by the House Judiciary Committee, seeks to prevent mothers from dropping babies into Dumpsters or other areas where the infants are likely to die. Without fear of criminal charges or civil liability, unprepared mothers may act more responsibly if they choose to give up their infants, the bill's sponsors say.

But the measure, which applies to newborns up to three days old, faces an uncertain fate on the House floor.

"I think you're going to get this bill shoved on the floor," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican who opposed the measure because he said the committee hadn't given it enough thought.

"We really haven't allowed this concept to mature quite yet. There are many unanswered questions," O'Donnell said.

Carroll County Republican Del. Joseph M. Getty said the measure does not address the issue of both parents' rights.

"First, we're making it legal to abandon a baby," Getty said. "And there is no provision to notify a father. Children have two parents."

But sponsors pointed to cases such as one in Montgomery County last year, in which Tanisha Montague, 19, wrapped a newborn girl in a cloth and placed her inside a bag containing a chicken bone, a juice container, sanitary napkins and other garbage. She then put the baby in an unheated trash bin near her apartment in Germantown.

Montague was charged with attempted murder after her crying baby was discovered 15 minutes before a trash truck arrived, according to court testimony. The child was placed with a foster family.

Backers of the bill said they want to give mothers safe options - a police station, a hospital, a fire-and-rescue station.

"I'm trying to make this as simple and open-ended as possible," said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Although no state keeps statistics on abandoned newborns, a survey of media reports commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found 105 cases in 1998.

Maryland is one of 21 states considering such bills this year. Fifteen states have passed such legislation.

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