Safe Haven laws may be an option for an unplanned birth. What does it mean & what are my options?

VaysmanLegal_-9.jpg

If you are unexpectedly pregnant or had an unplanned birth of child, it can be scary and difficult to understand your circumstances and options.  To address concerns of abandoning and endangering infants, many states have enacted infant “Safe Haven laws”, also referred to as “Baby Moses laws”, as an option to parents during this difficult time.  These laws usually allow a biological parent to place their infant in a safe location to receive medical care, such as a hospital, police station, or fire station, and may or may not be required to identify themselves or the child.  Many states also have immunity for abandonment or criminal negligence if parents choose this route to encourage parents to place the child in a safe environment to receive medical care. This blog post will review the Pennsylvania Safe Haven Law and where to get help in your own state. This is strictly informational and is not legal advice.

Safe Haven laws vary state-by-state, and it is important to have a clear understanding of the law in your own home state.  Check out the U.S. Children’s Bureau state-by-state guide to Infant Safe Haven Laws or search their database for your state’s laws here.

Does Pennsylvania have a Safe Haven Law, and what is it? In Pennsylvania, the Safe Haven law was enacted in the Newborn Protection Act and allows for a parent to drop off (relinquish) a newborn to a healthcare provider at a hospital, a police officer at a police station, or an emergency services provider such as a paramedic.   A newborn is a child that is twenty-eight (28) days or younger. Such facilities may have an incubator that allows parents to place the child anonymously and triggers care and notice for the child.

What happens once a parent drops off their child? When dropping off a newborn with either a hospital or police station, the parent may, but is not required to, provide information about the newborn’s medical history and/or any identifying information.

If a newborn is dropped of at a healthcare provider, the provider shall:

  1. Take the newborn into protective custody, and

  2. Complete a medical evaluation and treat the newborn as needed, and

  3. Notify the county agency, local police department, or PA State Police.

Likewise, if a newborn is dropped off at a police station or with an emergency services provide, they shall:

  1. Take the newborn into protective custody, and

  2. Take the newborn to a hospital in the care of a healthcare provider to receive medical evaluation and treatment as needed.

The health care provider is required to notify the county agency or appropriate authorities immediately by phone when a newborn is accepted into custody, and provide a written report within 48 hours of the oral report.

Can the provider or parent face criminal penalty and/or civil liability? The provider has immunity from civil liability and criminal penalty if complying with the law’s requirements for custody and care and appropriate reporting.

The parent is not criminally liable for solely leaving a newborn in the care of a hospital or police station as long as:

  1. Parent expresses orally or through conduct intent to have the hospital or police station accept the newborn, and

  2. The newborn is not a victim of child abuse or criminal conduct.

I want to learn more. Where do I go? Parents are encouraged to review all potential options for the unplanned pregnancy or birth, and to talk with a counselor and attorney about these options is possible.  In Pennsylvania, parents can learn more by confidentially calling Pennsylvania’s Confidential Safe Haven Helpline: 1-866-921-SAFE (7233). You can learn more at PA’s Safe Haven Law website and can find a PA Safe Haven provider on this map.

Safe Haven laws vary state-by-state, and it is important to have a clear understanding of the law in your own home state.  Check out the U.S. Children’s Bureau state-by-state guide to Infant Safe Haven Laws or search their database for your state’s laws here.

Liz Vaysman