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Giving Up Baby

Giving Up Baby: Safe Haven Laws, Motherhood, and Reproductive Justice

Laury Oaks
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Giving Up Baby
    Book Description:

    "Baby safe haven" laws, which allow a parent to relinquish a newborn baby legally and anonymously at a specified institutional location-such as a hospital or fire station-were established in every state between 1999 and 2009. Promoted during a time of heated public debate over policies on abortion, sex education, teen pregnancy, adoption, welfare, immigrant reproduction, and child abuse, safe haven laws were passed by the majority of states with little contest. These laws were thought to offer a solution to the consequences of unwanted pregnancies: mothers would no longer be burdened with children they could not care for, and newborn babies would no longer be abandoned in dumpsters.

    Yet while these laws are well meaning, they ignore the real problem: some women lack key social and economic supports that mothers need to raise children. Safe haven laws do little to help disadvantaged women. Instead, advocates of safe haven laws target teenagers, women of color, and poor women with safe haven information and see relinquishing custody of their newborns as an act of maternal love. Disadvantaged women are preemptively judged as "bad" mothers whose babies would be better off without them.

    Laury Oaks argues that the labeling of certain kinds of women as potential "bad" mothers who should consider anonymously giving up their newborns for adoption into a "loving" home should best be understood as an issue of reproductive justice. Safe haven discourses promote narrow images of who deserves to be a mother and reflect restrictive views on how we should treat women experiencing unwanted pregnancy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-8307-3
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Safe Haven Laws Are Not Only about Saving Babies
    (pp. 1-46)

    Baby safe haven laws, which allow a parent to relinquish a newborn legally and anonymously at a specified institutional location such as a hospital or fire station, were established with varying stipulations in every US state between 1999 and 2009. Promoted during a time of heated public debate over policies on abortion, sex education, teen pregnancy, adoption, welfare, immigrant reproduction, and child abuse, safe haven laws were passed by the majority of states with little contest. Legislators argued for safe haven laws by citing specific cases of newborns left in unsafe public places, including dumpster bins, church steps, and school...

  5. 1 The Work of Saving Babies’ Lives and Souls
    (pp. 47-74)

    We turn now to consider several narratives of social responsibility that are embedded within infant abandonment prevention discourses: all good mothers choose life over death; innocent infants rescued from their mothers can be saved and nurtured by deserving families; and every newborn is sacred and must be honored through community rituals. To attain the goals set out in these narratives, advocacy for safe haven laws has most visibly promoted overlapping legal and educational strategies to prevent the unsafe, public abandonment of newborns by lobbying for the institution of safe haven laws and creating campaigns to alert people about the laws....

  6. 2 Girls at Risk of Dumping Their Newborns
    (pp. 75-116)

    Safe haven advocates celebrated success when each state adopted a safe haven law, and yet the existence of the laws did not mean that people had knowledge of them. Proponents formed state, regional, and national safe haven advocacy networks with an aim to inform all girls and women about baby safe haven laws, where to find safe haven sites, and how to use them legally to relinquish an infant. The website of the National Safe Haven Alliance, the first link provided in a Google search for “baby safe haven,” provides this information for every state, and addresses female readers specifically:...

  7. 3 Relinquishing Motherhood: How and Why Safe Haven Surrenders Happen
    (pp. 117-164)

    A news report leads in with a fire rescue engineer recalling, “It was a[n] ‘oh my God’ moment, leaving a baby unattended like that,” as the screen shows a handwritten note left with the baby, “Please Find Her a good Home. I’m sorry Thank-you Birthmom Born April 21, 2011 7:15am” and the CNN footer flashes “Safe Haven Baby.”¹ The newborn was left at a Florida fire station approximately one hour after her birth, and the hyperenergetic newscaster applauds the birth mother’s actions: “Mom does the right thing. She couldn’t give this baby a home, so she leaves the baby, just...

  8. 4 The Unsurpassed Adoption Value of Safe Haven Babies
    (pp. 165-202)

    These heartfelt declarations point to the social and individual value of safe haven babies. In the first quote, a legislator argues that caring citizens must support the protection of unwanted babies. In the second, the emotional appeal to women to “let us have their little babies” suggests that the state saves babies from their mothers’ crises and simultaneously implies that there are crisis levels of abandoned babies. This sense of moral ownership of the responsibility of saving the lives of safe haven babies by placing them in deserving homes is reiterated by the National Safe Haven Alliance website in its...

  9. Conclusion: Safe Haven Laws and Advancing Reproductive Justice
    (pp. 203-222)

    This book has emphasized that issues surrounding baby safe haven laws are best understood as problems of reproductive justice, meaning that they call attention to the complexities of pregnancy and motherhood experiences and the unequal social and economic support available to women and girls within our society. How is our understanding of these disparities enhanced through the voices of the few women who have spoken out to address both the challenges of decision-making about motherhood and the act of relinquishing a newborn? Paralleling our understanding that safe haven laws are not just about saving babies, women’s narratives demonstrate that “unwantedness”...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 223-232)
    (pp. 233-264)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 265-274)
    (pp. 275-275)