‘Safe haven’ law needs update to better protect infants

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The below op-ed, by State Representative Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) and State Representative Katy Peternel (R-Wolfeboro), was originally published in the Union Leader on September 28, 2023.

HB 1607 has since been passed by the New Hampshire General Court and is awaiting Governor Sununu’s signature. Contact him to ask for his support of this life-saving bill! Call 603-271-2121 or email governorsununu@nh.gov.

New Hampshire is ranked first in the nation for child well-being. This is something we should all be very proud of since our children are our future. But what happens when parents of a newborn baby are in crisis or dealing with mental health issues or drug dependency? Those children might be in danger.

We have seen tragedies in such circumstances right here in New Hampshire. We have had a “safe haven” law since 2003. This law provides safe haven locations where a parent in crisis can surrender their baby, such as a hospital, staffed church, fire station or police station. It has been 20 years, and our law needs to be updated.

Our bipartisan legislation expanding Safe Havens does three main things. First, it expands our current law to allow for “Safe Haven Baby Boxes” or a similar device. These devices could be installed in hospitals, fire stations, and law enforcement locations that are staffed 24/7 and will accept babies surrendered by a parent. Babies can be anonymously placed in a secure and comfortable receptacle. An alarm is sounded inside the facility, inaudible to the surrendering parent, so the infant can be retrieved within minutes.

Our current law allows for a safe haven location to take temporary custody of a baby only up to seven days old. This is the youngest age allowed in New England and one of the youngest in the nation. Our legislation will extend the age, allowing babies who are up to 61 days old to be received in safe havens. We believe that allowing for a little older baby is common sense, especially when there is a crisis.

One of the most important additions to our legislation is protection from legal action for a parent who surrenders a baby at a safe haven. This is where the dumpster decision comes into play. Does a mom possibly dealing with a drug addiction and outstanding warrants go to a Safe Haven, just toss her baby into a dumpster, or leave them in a campsite in the woods as has happened here in New Hampshire? We want that mom or dad to know that law enforcement will not be investigating or tracking them for some prior offense. We want them to feel comfortable in taking that baby to a Safe Haven facility.

If a parent feels the need to surrender their infant for any reason, then we, as a society, should help those struggling parents with a better option than starvation in a dumpster. A world where every child is loved and where every parent has the capability and support needed to care for their children would be ideal. Barring that perfect world, this legislation will allow parents in crisis to choose life for their baby.

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