ANNAPOLIS – Mothers who abandon their babies with a responsible adult may soon be immune from prosecution under a bill passed by the General Assembly late Monday night.
The bill, intended to keep distraught mothers from leaving their newborns in trash dumps or on street corners, must be signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening before it is law.
“The citizens of Maryland now have important legislation that will, hopefully, save even one life,” said Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, D- Montgomery, a sponsor of safe haven legislation. “Maybe more.”
The so-called safe haven measure is the result of months of tussling among lawmakers over the bill’s structure. At issue was whether Maryland’s law should be more expansive those passed by most other states.
The Senate chose the conservative structure, naming only hospitals as safe places to abandon babies. The House broadened a bill sponsored by Grosfeld that originally included only hospitals, police stations, firehouses and social service agencies as safe havens. The House extended it to include any responsible person.
The House version ultimately prevailed.
Grosfeld was initially skeptical of the expansion, but praised the compromise, which now requires the responsible adult to take the infant to a hospital or social service agency within three days.
“The compromise actually made the bill even stronger,” Grosfeld said. “It really perfected the bill.”
The bill passed by the General Assembly is much broader than safe haven laws passed in the last three years in 35 states. Most states specify places where infants may be legally dropped off. Only New York’s law, which requires only that babies be abandoned with any “suitable” person, is more expansive.
As long as the responsible person is not negligent or abusive of the baby, the recipient would not be responsible for any actions taken on the child’s behalf, and the mother would be granted immunity for abandoning her newborn.
“We now need to get the message out to the public about what the law does to ensure young women who abandon their babies can leave them safely,” Grosfeld said.
Powerful House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D- Prince George’s, pushed the broad safe haven bill through the House arguing that a distraught young woman with no car could not easily get to a hospital, police station or other designated safe haven.
The expanded version allows the mother to give the baby to someone she trusts — a priest, preacher, lawyer or family physician, for example.
The safe haven law became an issue in Maryland last year after a 19-year-old Montgomery County woman wrapped her newborn daughter in a blanket and put her in a trash can. The infant was found alive just before garbage collectors arrived.
– 30 – CNS-4-9-02