Safety-net law continues to save babies Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Apr. 16, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

A young woman is frightened and alone. She has no job, no way to provide a home for her newborn baby. Fortunately, a friend told her that in Wisconsin, she can leave her baby at a hospital. Her baby will be cared for and eventually placed with a loving adoptive family. 

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In the past year, 24 newborn babies’ lives like this one were saved, thanks to a state law passed eight years ago (April 3, 2001). The Safe Haven Law allows parents to turn an unharmed baby over to the state anonymously within 72 hours of the baby’s birth.

Our state’s Safe Haven Law is indeed working, reports Terry Spevacek Walsh, executive director of the non-profit Safe Place for Newborns of Wisconsin, Inc., an organization formed to educate citizens about the Safe Haven Law.

Saving newborn babies’ lives

The law stipulates that a mother or father may give their newborn baby to any Wisconsin hospital employee, police officer, or emergency personnel without prosecution. The parent can even call “911” to give the baby away.

To help parents and provide information, Safe Place for Newborns established a toll-free crisis hotline (877-440-2229) and a Web site,

Before the law was passed, newborn babies were sometimes found abandoned in ditches, dumpsters, and other unsafe places.  Of course, many of those babies died.

But since the safe haven law passed, no newborns have been found dead. Instead, mothers are giving birth and handing their babies over to the state if they feel they can’t raise their babies. The good thing is that these mothers are choosing life for their children. However, the number of babies relinquished is on the rise.

Why numbers have increased

The economic downturn might be one reason why more parents are deciding not to keep their newborn babies, said Walsh. She noted that Wisconsin legislators were clear in defining a three-day time period for parents to turn in a baby. Otherwise, our state could have a situation such as what happened in Nebraska last year when children as old as teenagers were left at hospitals.

She also believes there is greater awareness of the law. In addition, women are more aware of the developmental stages of a pregnancy and wish to carry the baby to term, even if they aren’t able to raise the child. “Women are much better informed about fetal development through advanced technologies like 3-D ultrasounds and even through frank popular culture discussions,” said Walsh.  

“For many women, abortion isn’t their preferred choice but parenting the child isn’t either. Some women deny they’re even pregnant. Then, left without a plan, the baby arrives and they panic. This law gives a mother the choice to walk into a hospital, relinquish the baby safely to hospital staff, and not fear that the police will hound her.”  

Baby adopted into loving home

After the mother leaves the newborn with hospital personnel, she can leave, Walsh explains. The baby will be given any needed medical attention and the adoption process will begin. After a court hearing to terminate parental rights (with no appearances required for the birth mother or father), the baby will be adopted into an approved, loving home.

What’s wonderful is that this process preserves the health and future of both the mother and the child, making it a much better alternative than abortion or abandonment in a dumpster.

For mothers who do not want to leave their baby at a hospital, Wisconsin also has a wide range of adoption options, from complete anonymity to open adoption where the birth parent  keeps in contact with the child. 

“With the growing number of couples wishing to adopt, I hope a birth parent would choose to make an adoption plan,” said Walsh. “But if an adoption plan has not been made, the mother has in Safe Place for Newborns a final safety net for her baby.” 

Increasing awareness of this law

To increase awareness of this law, Safe Place for Newborns makes posters, brochures, public service announcements, and other tools available to schools, service clubs, and individuals to display throughout their communities. 

I encourage Catholic parishes, schools, and organizations to post materials on bulletin boards or place them in display racks. Parents and teachers should also consider talking about the safety-net law with young people. 

For information or copies of the materials, contact Safe Place for Newborns by phone at 608-225-5544 or by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it