Vitals Reporting on the pro-life movement

Desperate mothers in desperate times

Life | Safe haven groups work to protect babies from abandonment during the pandemic
by Leah Hickman
Posted 5/04/20, 06:14 pm

In the last two months, the National Safe Haven Alliance’s hotline has seen an almost 10 percent increase in phone calls, many from moms asking what to do with babies they say they can’t care for. The coronavirus pandemic has added to the personal and financial strain on new parents, while the number of infant abandonments in the United States has increased slightly.

“We are generally concerned that, with the pandemic going on, moms that were under normal stress … are going to be under increased stress and pressure, which may precipitate even more illegal abandonments during this period of crisis,” said Dawn Geras, president of the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation.

Safe haven laws in all 50 states allow parents to anonymously surrender their newborns without facing legal repercussions if they bring the babies to a hospital or another designated drop-off point. Safe haven advocates have started helping mothers in new ways during the COVID-19 outbreak, but they have to fight against a lack of public awareness about the laws and related programs.

The Safe Haven Baby Boxes organization based in Indiana tracks illegal abandonments in the news. It said communities nationwide found seven abandoned babies in March—up from five in February and two in January. In April, they tracked four abandonments. On Tuesday, an employee at a waste facility in California found a dead baby girl on the facility’s conveyor belt.

Most women who call the National Safe Haven Alliance hotline don’t know they are pregnant until right before the birth, according to executive director Heather Burner. Some women call while they’re in labor. Others call right after giving birth in the toilet or on the bathroom floor.

“The concerns from the mothers haven’t changed [since the pandemic began],” Burner said. “They are looking for help to create a safe plan.”

Occasionally, though, the hotline will receive a call from a mother who wants to surrender her baby but is concerned about how the pandemic is affecting the safe haven laws.

“They’re afraid,” Burner said, adding that callers aren’t sure whether it is OK for them to go to safe havens at a local hospital or the neighborhood fire station. One mother was so unsure about going to the hospital that the hotline staff contacted a nearby fire department for her. Officials arrived with an ambulance to pick up the baby at her home.

The Safe Haven Baby Boxes organization has already seen new needs among the mothers it helps.

“We’ve gotten diapers for women before who couldn’t afford them,” said founder and CEO Monica Kelsey. “We’ve taken groceries to women before, and, just recently, of course, helping them pay their rent, which is something we don’t normally do.”

The group is helping one woman with her rent who already surrendered her baby but has other children at home. Another woman is weeks away from delivering a baby, and the organization is helping her look into an open adoption.

“Whenever we hear those words, ‘I wish I could keep my baby,’ ‘I love my baby but I can’t do this,’ we want to make sure we can offer all of the support that we can,” Burner said. “About 60 percent of our calls that initiate as a safe haven call will choose an adoption plan once they’re able to speak with someone at an adoption agency.”

One of the biggest obstacles these organizations face is struggling parents not knowing safe haven laws exist. Kelsey mentioned one mother recently in the news who left her baby on a front porch in an Omaha, Neb., neighborhood. If she had known about safe haven laws, the woman could have legally surrendered her child at a designated drop-off location. But, instead, she now faces charges for child abandonment and neglect.

Kelsey said adoption is always a better alternative to any type of abandonment, but safe haven laws at least help prevent mothers from leaving their children somewhere to die: “If you don’t have this alternative, you’re going to continue finding babies in dumpsters.”

Associated Press/Photo by Czarek Sokolowski (file) Associated Press/Photo by Czarek Sokolowski (file) A pro-abortion protester in Warsaw, Poland

Defending Polish babies

Lawmakers in Poland are advancing legislation that would protect unborn babies from abortion on the basis of fetal abnormalities or incurable illness. Up to this point, the Polish government already ranked as one of the safest countries in Europe for the unborn. The laws there allowed abortion only in cases of fetal abnormalities, rape, incest, or threat to a mother’s health.

In 2018, 1,050 out of 1,100 abortions at Polish abortion facilities were performed because of congenital anomalies, or birth defects. The new law will eliminate most of those, though pro-abortion groups claim illegal abortions will continue, as will travel to nearby countries for abortions.

The legislation recently passed in a preliminary vote in the Polish Parliament’s lower house. Similar legislation failed to pass in 2015 and 2016 after abortion supporters staged protests. —L.H.

Thomas More Society Thomas More Society Wanda King (center) outside an abortion business in Hagerstown, Md.

Pro-life protesters free to stand

The city of Hagerstown, Md., backed down from its restrictions on pro-life activists peacefully demonstrating outside of abortion businesses. The Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, sent multiple letters to city officials after police threatened Wanda King with a $5,000 fine for standing on the sidewalk outside a local abortion business in mid-April. Police told her that due to COVID-19 restrictions, she had to walk around the large city block where the abortion facility was located.

On April 22, Hagerstown’s city attorney ruled the demonstrators did not have to keep walking but would still need to maintain social distancing and limit the size of gatherings to no more than 10 people as long as the coronavirus state of emergency continues in Maryland.

“As long as abortion vendors continue to put women and children at risk—even during a state of emergency when all other elective procedures are banned—there will be a need for Ms. King and other life advocates to be near the abortion facility offering hope and information on life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” Thomas More attorney Michael McHale said. —L.H.

Premature baby survives COVID-19

A 3-week-old baby in Scotland—believed to be the country’s youngest coronavirus patient—recovered from COVID-19 last month despite being born eight weeks early. At her birth, Peyton Maguire weighed just 3 pounds, 5 ounces, and doctors had to place her into an incubator in the hospital’s neonatal unit.

The child’s only symptom appeared to be a mild cough, but the need for a test concerned her mother: “I was sobbing and really worried about how [the disease] could affect her respiratory system, her lungs, and if it was life-threatening. How is she fighting against it when she’s so wee?”

The infant recovered less than a week after testing positive. Doctors sent her home after two follow-up tests came back negative. —L.H.

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Leah Hickman

Leah is a reporter for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @leahmhickman.

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  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Tue, 05/05/2020 10:59 am

    Is the first sentence in the last paragraph of the safe haven article correct as it is? Having a hard time following...

    The safe haven law is not a good option,” said Kelsey, adding that it is better than letting the child die


    Posted: Tue, 05/05/2020 02:19 pm

    I agree that the sentence is puzzling ("not a good option"?), especially in light of statements on the website of Safe Haven Baby Boxes: 

    [About Us, Brief History] "She [Monica Kelsey] has made it her personal mission to educate others on the Safe Haven Law and to do whatever it takes to save the lives of innocent babies from being abandoned.  The Safe Haven Baby Box takes the face to face interaction out of the surrender and protects the mother from being seen. The Safe Haven Baby Boxes organization's primary goal is to raise awareness of the Safe Haven Law."


  • Web Editor
    Posted: Tue, 05/05/2020 04:52 pm

    We’ve edited the last paragraph in the safe haven article to clarify the point Monica Kelsey was trying to make.