Ms. magazine  -- more than a magazine a movement

SIGN UP FOR MS. DIGEST, JOBS, NEWS AND ALERTS

FEMINIST WIRE NEWSBRIEFS

ABOUT
SEE CURRENT ISSUE
SHOP MS. STORE
MS. IN THE CLASSROOM
FEMINIST DAILY WIRE
FEMINIST RESOURCES
PRESS
JOBS AT MS.
READ BACK ISSUES
CONTACT
RSS (XML)
 
feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

October-26-00

The Baby Abandonment Myth - Part II

Regardless of who is supporting these bills, one important question remains unanswered: is there a need for this legislation at all? Or is this just another case of politicians scoring easy "we-care-about-children" points? No one is really certain that baby abandonment is a statistically significant problem. No agency officially tracks how many babies are abandoned each year, though Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Tex.) has proposed a bill to do just that. The numbers that are available, however, suggest that this issue is drawing a disproportionate amount of legislative fervor. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 105 babies were abandoned nationwide in 1998. Looking at the statistics for her own county in New York State, social worker Julie Cooper Altman says she was shocked that legislators would take on this problem above all others. "In Suffolk County, eleven teenagers died of suicide or homicide in 1995. That's ten more bodies we should be concerned about than the one baby that's abandoned here every eighteen months. It's easier, I guess, to love a baby than a teenager."

Indeed, some of the founding fathers and mothers of baby abandonment legislation come from the same groups that support abstinence education, parental consent, and other campaigns to limit reproductive health services. Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), says that it's hardly a coincidence that anti-choice advocates are involved in both issues. "They've created a climate of shame around sexuality," she says, "and I can only hypothesize, but perhaps there's some guilt involved. After all, it's the teachings of anti-choice thinkers that have driven young people into a corner where they might feel compelled to keep their parents, or neighbors, or minister from finding out about a pregnancy. These are the women who will wait past the time that an abortion is safe and who are at risk of trying to hide the birth of their baby."

Which leads to the next big question: if a woman is feeling that scared and panicked, how likely is it that she would even take advantage of this option and drive to a drop-off site where she would have to come face-to-face with an authority figure of one kind or another? Not very, says Debbe Magnusen, founder and director of Project Cuddle, a crisis line for pregnant women. "These women are frightened, they're fearful of the system," says Magnusen. "So they're not going to want to go somewhere where they'll have to involve the system in their lives." As of May 2000, no one had left a baby at a designated site in any of the three states that had legalized it by that time. But since Mobile, Alabama, instituted its local safe surrender program, four babies have been left at designated drop-off points, according to Jodi Brooks. And, she claims, not a single infant has been abandoned outside of the designated sites since her program launched in November 1998. She says, "the secret is to advertise everywhere—on television, on buses. You've got to let your community know about it."

Cooper Altman suggests that this same strategy should be employed to alert teenagers to the existence of other options. "Why not fund campaigns to inform confused pregnant women about family planning agencies?" she suggests. In fact, the laws neglect women's needs almost entirely. For one thing, while they are ostensibly designed to protect women from punishment, most of the new laws simply state that birth mothers have an "affirmative defense" if they leave a baby at a designated site—meaning they can still be prosecuted if the district attorney determines they did not follow the abandonment guidelines to the letter. Furthermore, counseling for the mother seems not to have been considered at all. That worries former Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Adrienne Verrilli. "It's not enough for a woman to drop off her baby with a firefighter," she says. "There's

Media Resources:


© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

If you liked this story, consider making a tax-deductible donation to support Ms. magazine.

 

 

Send to a Friend
Their
Your
Comments
(optional)


More Feminist News

2/27/2015 This Bipartisan Bill Will Hold Colleges Accountable for Ending Campus Sexual Assault - A bipartisan bill aimed at holding colleges and universities accountable for rape and sexual assault cases was introduced in Congress yesterday, spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Some of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act's key key provisions include a requirement of confidential reporting systems on colleges and universities, minimum training requirements for campus personnel, and stricter penalties for schools found to be in violation of Title IX or the Clery Act. . . .
 
2/27/2015 Houston Is Finally Testing a Backlog of Thirty-Year-Old Rape Kits - The city of Houston, Texas has finally begun testing decades-old rape kits - and in just one week, those have led to hundreds of leads. Houston is one of the first of the major cities nation-wide to clear their backlog of over 6,000 untested rape kit s- some of which were more than thirty years old. . . .
 
2/26/2015 If This Bill Passes Federal Law Will Add Consent to Sex Ed Curriculums - Right now, federal law does not require health or sex education to include sexual assault prevention - but that could change with a new bill introduced by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Tim Kaine (D-VA). The Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, which was introduced earlier this month, would require all public secondary schools in the country to include teaching "safe relationship behavior" in order to help prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. . . .