Thursday, July 14, 2011
These Things Hidden - Heather Gudenkauf
Sadly, the issue at the heart of the novel - Safe Haven laws - really isn't a fictitious issue at all. For many women across the country, Safe Haven laws have provided a way for them to do something positive for their child. If you are unfamiliar with the issue of Safe Haven laws, I quote from the website for the Administration for Children and Families in explaining what these state laws essentially allow.
"Many State legislatures have enacted legislation to address infant abandonment and infanticide in response to a reported increase in the abandonment of infants. Beginning in Texas in 1999, "Baby Moses laws" or infant safe haven laws have been enacted as an incentive for mothers in crisis to safely relinquish their babies to designated locations where the babies are protected and provided with medical care until a permanent home is found. Safe haven laws generally allow the parent, or an agent of the parent, to remain anonymous and to be shielded from prosecution for abandonment or neglect in exchange for surrendering the baby to a safe haven."
These "safe havens" include hospitals, police and fire stations; community locales that are staffed 24/7, essentially, by people that can provide the necessary care for the child. There is also a maximum age of, typically, 30 days for the child to be relinquished without any consequence of abandonment charges, etc.
So the debate remains, do Safe Haven laws make sense?
I believe that the Safe Haven laws enacted in 49 of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, are a positive and worthwhile option. Abortion is a hot topic issue, that we are not going to get into in this posting, but is an option in unwanted pregnancy (no comments on whether it's a positive or negative option - as of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, it is an option for women by law). Adoption is also an option. In my opinion, Safe Haven laws are essentially adoption. It can be assumed that most infants that are left in the care of medical professionals are adopted by loving families that desire them and are able to care for them, unlike their biological parent(s). When a woman decides to take advantage of the Safe Haven laws in her state, she is choosing a better life for her child, is she not? Just like a woman who chooses adoption. The difference between Safe Haven laws and adoption, however, is the anonymity that goes along with the law. Researching the Safe Haven law in my own state, I find that although the child must be handed to a representative of the institution, beyond having to look someone face to face in handing off your child, there really isn't much more that must be done - no name, no age, no addresses or phone numbers. A mother (or couple) may choose to leave medical history, just for the child's knowledge in predisposition to disease, but it seems that the entire process is shrouded in anonymity, something that adoption - even closed adoption - does not provide.
So, do Safe Haven laws provide women with additional options in the case of unwanted pregnancy? Definitely. Are these state laws able to prevent infanticide? One would hope so; but as Gudenkauf shows us in her sophomore novel, who knows what a young girl may do in a state of panic.