This week, a 20-year-old woman stepped off a New York City subway, left a stroller holding her 10-month-old daughter on the platform, and rode off on the subway. When authorities tracked the mother down, she told them she is homeless.
“She felt she couldn't take care of the baby and thought she was leaving her in a safe public space,” said Stephen Davis, spokesman for the New York Police Department.
If the child had been younger than 3 days old, the woman could have taken advantage of city safe-haven laws, which allow mothers to drop off babies at designated places with no questions asked and no fear of prosecution.
In 1999, Texas established the nation’s first safe-haven law. That year, 13 babies were abandoned in Houston alone. Geanie Morrison of the Texas House of Representatives sponsored the “Baby Moses Law,” named for the Moses of the Bible, whose mother left him in a basket in the Nile River.
Now, all 50 states have safe-haven laws aimed at preventing mothers from discarding their babies in garbage cans, alleyways, or other unsafe places. The laws have upper age limits ranging from 3 days old to 1 year, and they require that babies be unharmed. Safe-haven laws offer many locations for mothers to surrender their babies: clinics, hospitals, welfare agencies, birthing centers, fire stations, police stations, or simply with a responsible adult.
A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee reports 76 newborns have been saved in the state since the state enacted its safe-haven law in 2001 after a newborn baby was found in a shed. The baby later died of dehydration. Two Tennessee women founded A Secret Safe Place in that year to raise awareness of the new state law.
Director Shannon McCloud, who says she is pro-life, called young women facing a pregnancy crisis vulnerable. “I just feel like they need people who can lend an understanding shoulder,” McCloud said.
Because the mothers surrender their babies anonymously, McCloud doesn't learn details of the mother's background. “It's probably an unintended pregnancy, and the mother is fearful for whatever reason of her family learning about the pregnancy,” she said.
Individuals who commit neonaticide or abandon or discard babies are predominantly young, unmarried, and physically healthy women pregnant for the first time, according to studies compiled by the National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center.
Such was the case with 27-year-old Katheryn Deprill, dubbed the “Burger King Baby.” Deprill’s mother, a victim of rape, left her at an Allentown, Pa., Burger King hours after giving birth in 1986. In March of this year, Deprill reunited with her mother, who said she didn’t take the newborn to the hospital because she didn't want to answer questions.
“I am so lucky that she cared enough to leave me in a warm, dry place,” Deprill told CBS. She was found wrapped in a sweatshirt with her umbilical cord still attached.
The Baby Safe Haven website states over 2,000 babies have been saved since states enacted laws. One frequently asked question listed on the website reads: “What if I change my mind?” The site’s answer? “It’s rare that a mother changes her mind.”
Deprill told Huffington Post that, while her mother expressed regret during their reunion, she said she forgave her mother “110 percent, absolutely.”
As for the New York City subway abandonment, the mother could have taken the baby to an Administration for Children's Services office to discuss giving up her parental rights. Instead, she might face a felony charge for abandonment of a child.