My last post was about a controversial European practice–the establishment of baby boxes. There’s a lot of discussion there–I might not have picked up on all the comments–but I wanted to reframe the discussion here. There are many different perspectives and many valid points to be made. It’s not so much that I think we all need to agree in the end as that I think we should understand where we disagree.
One way to start is by observing that the three things listed above (baby boxes, safe haven laws and adoption) are all potential solutions to a single problem: unwanted children.
They may not technically be exclusive solutions–by which I mean that you could have baby boxes or safe havens and then place those babies for adoption. In fact, I think this is what is commonly done. But one point that has been made forcefully in the discussions on the earlier post is that to the extent adoption is premised on various procedures that protect rights of all those involved, both baby boxes and safe havens short circuit those procedures.
From that point of view, baby boxes and safe havens are just variations on a theme and the theme is inconsistent with the proper process of adoption. If you have/use baby boxes/safe havens, then you give people a way of circumventing the adoption protections. While it may not be the most important point, one thing I would emphasize is that using either of these devices means that the child will not have access to its genetic parents.
Now in a perfect world the problem (unwanted children) is one that wouldn’t arise–or maybe it would arise only very rarely. In a perfect world, women would have control over their fertility and would only have children when the children were wanted. Whether one achieves this utopian end by access to safe and legal abortion or by effective contraception is really not important, because I think we can all agree that in this country we aren’t near to that ideal world and we are not likely to come near to it anytime soon. What that means (to me, anyway) is that you need to confront the problem–you cannot deny its existence and you cannot make it go away.
I do think you can view adoption as a solution to the unwanted children problem. (Consistent with that I have read that as contraception and abortion have become more widely available fewer children are available for adoption.) The question is whether adoption is, by itself, an adequate solution.
I’m afraid it is not. I think I’d rather it was. But when you read about babies found in dumpsters , what else can you conclude? (I chose the most recent story I could find, just to have a specific instance to point to.)
It seems clear that there are instances where women cannot or will not avail themselves of the adoption option. This might be because they do not know or willfully deny that they are pregnant, or because they operate outside a system of prenatal care that can help them evaluate the option, or because they are afraid of their own families reactions if they reveal their pregnancies.
It seems clear to me that some of these women will give birth under harrowing circumstances and will abandon their child. That, of course, is criminal. You can be prosecuted and you can go to jail. But these women are already in extreme situations and some of them won’t be deterred. They cannot keep their babies. They are not engaged in the adoption system. They will abandon their infants.
If you give them an option of a safe place–a safe haven–some of them may choose to abandon a child there. I will assume that we can all agree that for that particular child, this is a better option than the dumpster or the bathroom or the alleyway. That’s the whole idea behind safe haven laws.
At the same time, some women who would otherwise use adoption might short-circuit the process by using safe-havens. That’s a downside risk one has to acknowledge. To me, the critical questions are these: How many women who would ordinarily go through adoption processes instead use safe havens? What is the harm done to children by that? How many children are placed in safe havens who would otherwise be endangered? What is the harm done to them if safe havens are not available?
These are partly empirical questions–you could actually try to count these things–and partly value question–what is the harm of skipping out on the adoption process? But for me, it seems clear that some children will die if we don’t have safe haven provisions and that seems a pretty good reason to have them. As with so many things, I’d hope that we could fine-tune the process to make it as effective for the limited purpose as possible and to minimize misuse.
A bunch of other concerns about safe havens have also been raised: Could children be kidnapped and placed in a safe haven against the will of the mother, for instance? I suppose it is possible (though I skept about whether this has actually happened with any frequency) but I also think there are measures we can take to guard against that and to ensure that children placed in safe havens have not been snatched.
It’s also true that you could say that safe haven laws aren’t the answer either–because Arizona (where that story I linked to comes from ) has a safe haven law and it didn’t save that child’s life. But all that tells me is that safe haven laws aren’t a complete answer either. This doesn’t meant that they are without value.
Before I go (and I know this is getting long) I want to highlight one solution available in France but not here: A woman can go to a hospital and give birth anonymously. I think this is not supposed to happen in this country–if you go to a hospital your name will be recorded. This is a policy option worth considering–maybe next time.