What Are Infant Safe Haven Laws?

Infant Safe Haven laws — also known as Baby Moses laws — create frameworks for safely surrendering unharmed infants by parents (generally mothers), agents of parents, or legal custodians — often anonymously.1 This decriminalizes abandonment in a manner meant to reduce rates of infanticide of children for which the parents cannot or will not care for them. Age limits by jurisdiction range from just a few days up to a year after birth.2

The parents voluntarily terminate all rights at designated locations so that the infants can become temporary wards of the State. The local child welfare departments verify that infants are not on missing children lists, on putative father lists, or have tribal affiliations. There may also be a waiting period for children to be reclaimed by parents or relatives. After these steps are complete, the children will become available for foster-to-adoption or direct adoption.3

These Safe Haven laws currently exist in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Though the term “Safe Haven” applies only within the United States, similar concepts exist in a number of nations, where designated locations may have “baby hatches” or “baby boxes.”4

Where Are Safe Haven Zones?

Allowable Safe Haven zones differ by state and territory. Hospitals and medical centers are nearly universal locations, as they have medical staff on-site to care for infants. Police departments and fire departments are also permitted in the majority of jurisdictions. A few also allow for places of worship, adoption centers, other public or private agencies or organizations, or even on-site 9-1-1 first responders.

Origination of the Idea

The inspiration for such laws ultimately originated from the Exodus story of Moses being placed in the reeds along the Nile, with his sister watching at a distance, for the pharaoh’s daughter to find and adopt him.5

Throughout history, there have been several means for retrieving and tending to foundlings, often through anonymous drop-offs. These all had goals of reducing rates of child abandonment and infanticide.

In the United States, Texas Representative Geanie Morrison introduced the first Safe Haven legislation in 19996, after thirteen Houston area newborns were abandoned — and three of them died.7 Similar laws quickly spread to other states within the next decade, through bipartisan efforts, after the publication of studies finding infant abandonment or infanticide happened nationwide at alarming rates and by gruesome means.8

Problems

Though legislators have attempted to write Safe Haven laws that best protect newborns and prevent infanticide, states and territories still have much work left on the education and awareness front.9 Thus, instances of infanticide10 and post-viability self-induced abortions11 still arise.

Additionally, not all states have clear frameworks in place for other parents or guardians to reclaim children, such as when mothers relinquish infants without fathers’ knowledge.

Because of these problems, organizations like the National Safe Haven Alliance have arisen to address educational needs and legal questions surrounding Safe Haven laws.

Plus, there will always be the need for organizations like Let Them Live and Human Defense Initiative that seek to help women and families through crisis pregnancies and beyond childbirth.

  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Infant Safe Haven Laws,” Child Welfare Information Gateway. September 2021. Accessed August 27, 2023.https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/statutes/safehaven/ 
  2. Century Code §50-25.1-15 (ND) https://www.ndlegis.gov/cencode/t50c25-1.pdf  
  3. U.S Department of Health & Human Services, Ibid.  
  4.  Evans, Stephen. “The ‘baby box’ returns to Europe,” BBC. June 26, 2012. Accessed August 27, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18585020 
  5. Exodus 2:1-10 NET https://www.bible.com/bible/107/EXO.2.NET
  6.  House Bill 3423 (Texas, 1999) https://capitol.texas.gov/billlookup/History.aspx?LegSess=76R&Bill=HB3423 
  7. Carrubba, Kimberly. “A Study of Infant Abandonment Legislation,” Legislative Counsel Bureau, p.3, Research Division. December 2000. Accessed August 27, 2023. https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Division/Research/Publications/Bkground/BP01-03.pdf  
  8. Carrubba, Ibid 
  9.  Howard, Hannah. “Safe Haven Laws: An Invitation to Life,” Charlotte Lozier Institute. December 1, 2021. Accessed August 27, 2023.https://lozierinstitute.org/safe-haven-laws-an-invitation-to-life/#_ftn1 
  10. Associated Press. “Court: Resentence mom who put newborn in trash at sorority,” 10 WBNS. December 10, 2022. Accessed August 26, 2023. https://www.10tv.com/article/news/crime/court-resentence-mom-who-put-newborn-in-trash-at-muskingumsorority/530-65187583-f391-4076-ad34-bf9f710ecdf5 
  11. Pandolfo, Chris. “Nebraska mom pleads guilty to helping daughter, 17, obtain illegal abortion,” Fox News. July 12, 2023. Accessed August 27, 2023. https://www.foxnews.com/us/nebraska-mom-pleads-guilty-helping-daughter-17-obtain-illegal-abortion

Main photo by Michal Bar Haim on Unsplash

Secondary Photo by Daniel Gump

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Daniel uses his background in technical writing to interpret and summarize source materials in ways he hopes will allow others to concisely see the truth.‬

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.