Mass. Baby Safe Haven law in affect

By Dan O'Brien, Collegian Staff

By Dan O’Brien

Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts Baby Safe Haven Law took effect this past Friday, October 29, making legal the act of placing newborns into the hands of officials at hospitals, police and fire stations across the state.

Massachusetts has become the 47th state to enact a law that provides places for mothers to drop off newborns. Baby Safe Haven advocates say that this law is especially important because it gives a newborn’s parents the ability to place it into medical care in the crucial hours following birth.

Michael Morrissey, leader of the Massachusetts-based group “Baby Safe Haven Yes!” pushed for the bill’s passage in the state house. He gave one example of a Connecticut couple who followed their state’s Baby Safe Haven law by bringing it to the hands of a hospital worker. The hospital was not in Connecticut, but Massachusetts where no such law existed at the time.

Morrissey said the hospital took the baby into its care anyway. He added that it was probably a better idea that the parents brought the child to the Massachusetts hospital because the closest hospital to their home was located in Massachusetts. The couple lived on the boarder of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“It was very cold when it happened,” said Morrissey. “Bringing it into Massachusetts probably saved the baby’s life.”

The new Massachusetts law differs slightly from similar laws in other states. One main note in the law says that a newborn must be placed – specifically – into the hands of someone working at a hospital, fire, or police station.

“The Mass. Baby Safe Haven law decriminalizes the act of safely surrendering a newborn, under 7 days old that has not been abused, into the hands of fire fighting personnel at a city or town manned fire station, into the hands police personnel at a manned police station anywhere in the state, or into the hands of hospital personnel at any hospital in the state,” said a Baby Safe Haven Law Yes! press release.

The new law has gained much support on the local levels of Massachusetts politics, according to Morrissey.

“I just went to Lowell General Hospital, Leominster Hospital and a couple others. Everyone I’ve talked to has been extraordinarily receptive. A lot of firefighters and police officers are in favor from experience,” Morrissey said. “The town level support has been about 99 percent.”

Morrissey said the Baby Safe law took three years to pass because a bill can easily get delayed on Beacon Hill. He claimed the legislative support was still there, adding that there was bipartisan support for the measure.

“In Beacon Hill, to keep a bill from passing all someone has to do is stop it by one day,” he said. “Both Neral and Mass. Citizens for Life were in support of this. It is highly unusual to get a bill supported by both those groups.”

Nationwide, the bill has shown bipartisan support as well. Governors that have signed a Baby Safe Haven Law include George Pataki (R-NY), Gray Davis (D-Calif.), Craig Benson (R-NH) and Jesse Ventura (I-Minn.). The first governor ever to sign the bill into state law was our current President, George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas.

The Massachusetts bill has gained support from Hollywood as well. Patricia Heaton, who plays Deborah on the CBS sit-com “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is featured in radio public service announcement supporting Baby Safe Havens in Massachusetts. The PSA is being distributed by MP3 to high school, college and commercial radio stations across the state. Heaton is the spokesperson for Baby Safe Haven laws across the country.

Since the idea of the bill was first created in 2000, there have been a total of 13 babies abandoned in Massachusetts, 6 of whom died. Two of the 13 babies were found this summer. One was found at a fire station in Southampton and another on the steps of a church in Martha’s Vineyard.

One of the six babies that died was killed on the UMass Amherst campus in 2002. The baby belonged to Jennifer Paluseo, a 19-year-old freshman. The Plymouth, Mass. native allegedly gave birth to her baby in a James Hall dormitory shower stall and later placed her baby in the trash. The child was discovered deceased by a custodial worker the next morning.

Morrissey says the most important information to release to the public is that this law has been passed, so parents can know of such a law beforehand. He urges those who need to find a place for their newborn to visit the Baby Safe Haven’s Web site, http://www.babysafehaven.com/ or call the New York Children Hope Hotline at 1-877-796-HOPE.