ANNAPOLIS – Safe haven legislation, designed to save abandoned newborns, isn’t safe at all, said some adoption advocates in a General Assembly hearing this week.
These adoption advocates believe these bills – which would allow desperate mothers to anonymously give up their children without prosecution – would “do more harm than good.”
The intent is good but the flaws of the policy are significant, said the four adoption advocates in a Maryland House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.
Abandoned children don’t have medical records or family history information, said Emily Banker, who testified on her own behalf as a Maryland resident and adoptee.
For example, she said, if any of these children have terminal diseases, they would have no genetic source for possible treatments like bone marrow transplants.
Plus, she said, anonymity already exists under adoption laws.
“Once a baby is surrendered for adoption, the records are sealed until the child turns 21,” Banker said. “And even at this time, the files can only be opened if the parent obliges.”
Still, the overwhelming number of agency representatives who testified were supportive. While in favor of the bill, the Maryland Public Defenders’ Office, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Department of Social Services said they were concerned about father’s rights, the mother’s anonymity and the age of the baby. Still, they said they’d rather iron out the wrinkles later. “All the other details can be dealt with after the baby is in the hospital,” said Douglas Gansler, the Montgomery County State’s Attorney who received media attention last August after prosecuting a Germantown mother for leaving her baby in a garbage room. Kate O’Conner, of the Green Ribbon Campaign for Open Adoption Records, is still opposed. Her testimony was a special for her, she said. “On this day in 1964, I was a 15-year-old teen-ager who gave birth to a child.” She later gave that child up for adoption but she said, “killing my baby never entered my mind. Normal people don’t kill their babies.” She quoted Alex Haley: “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from.”
Statistically, abandoned babies are not even a problem in Maryland, said Anne Cauman, outreach coordinator for the Adoptee-Birthparent Support Network. There are only 2 to 5 cases a year, she said, but no state agencies have kept statistics so the actual number could be higher through unreported cases.
“Public concern is inflamed by the media about one tragic local incident and people are looking for quick solutions with not enough concern about the negative side effects,” Cauman said.
There must be a way to come up with a plan to allow a crazed mother to come in, still not get prosecuted and use the systems already in place, said Linda Clausen, a social work student who spoke on behalf of the American Adoption Congress.
Patrick Putill, National Council for Adoption president, wasn’t at the hearing but said the legislation is important.
“It’s not about adoption, it’s about saving a baby’s life.”
Opponents, he said, are “looking at it backward . . . These laws started because paramedics got tired of picking up dead babies and prosecutors got tired of sending mothers to jail. It’s not meant to promote abandonment and it will not replace adoption.”
The adoption process can take as few as nine months to more than 18 months, depending on the circumstances. The safe-haven legislation would allow mothers to relinquish their babies immediately – no strings attached.
Of course, Putill said, relinquishments are not ideal, especially since the children are left with no parental information.
“But if we can save a handful of kids across the country,” Putill said. “Why not?”