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Another alternative to abortion

Spread the word: Safe haven laws save lives

A safe haven sign at a Chicago Fire Station Associated Press/Photo by Nam Y. Huh

Another alternative to abortion

Did you miss it? During U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments last month in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, Justice Amy Coney Barrett raised an under-discussed topic in the abortion debate: safe haven laws.

The laws allow mothers to safely surrender their newborn infants at a designated institution—like a hospital or a fire station (each state varies)—if they cannot care for them, up to 30 days after birth, without risk of prosecution or charges of child abandonment. 

In her remarks, Barrett addressed the concern of progressives with what they call “forced motherhood” and the threat of motherhood to “hinder women’s access to the workplace and to equal opportunities.” Safe haven laws, she said, essentially eliminate this burden—and she’s right. 

With safe haven options in every state, women across the country have no obligation to be a parent, and the laws provide a valid and important option to abortion. But pro-abortion activists prefer not to speak of them, even though laws provide an imperfect but important answer to difficult circumstances. 

For those who use and promote safe havens, they work well. The National Safe Haven Alliance has been a part of at least 4,442 infant surrenders since its founding in 2004. But because the laws and locations aren’t well-publicized, many women aren’t even aware of the option. With more awareness, thousands more could be saved from the tragedy of abortion.

Those who are truly “pro-choice” certainly won’t resist a mother’s decision to safely surrender her newborn.

Pro-life activist and adoptee Monica Kelsey took safe havens to the next level by creating Safe Haven Baby Boxes—heated repositories installed in the exterior walls of fire stations or hospitals where parents can safely place a newborn without question. Each box has an exterior door that locks once the baby is in place and three separate alarms that alert staff at the facility. There is an internal door to allow the retrieval of the infant safely. 

Kelsey, who was inspired to create the boxes after learning of her own abandonment as an infant, said most babies are retrieved within minutes of their arrival. “The longest it’s ever taken us to get a child from a box is 4 minutes, and the quickest child was retrieved in 45 seconds,” she said in a podcast interview.

The boxes are key because they truly are anonymous. Parents don’t have to speak with anyone, which can often be a barrier in the more traditional safe haven options, where they may be asked to pass on medical history or asked other intrusive questions. 

The major hurdle now is awareness, which is why Barrett’s recognition of safe haven options is so noteworthy. Many mothers facing this choice don’t know about the laws, boxes, or the availability of an anonymous surrender. 

Certainly, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, does not inform expectant mothers about safe havens—and often does not even offer traditional adoption as a valid option. Planned Parenthood’s 2018 annual report showed the organization performed 82 abortions for every adoption referral. For a group that champions a commitment to “choice,” it offers the slimmest of pickings—oddly enough, the one most financially beneficial to the organization. Planned Parenthood’s bottom line would suffer if it truly counseled women toward options like adoption and safe havens. 

What if every abortion center gave pregnant women a guide to state laws and locations and the phone number to a 24/7 crisis hotline? What if churches and community organizations prompted safe haven opportunities in their newsletters and on social media? What if more women knew they didn’t have to kill their babies to continue with their life? 

Many women don’t want to choose abortion but may feel forced to by challenging circumstances. “I will never forget having to wake up at 5 a.m. to get there for an 8 a.m. appointment to do something I didn’t want to do,” wrote one post-abortive mother. “But I felt like I had no choice.”

Had the mother known about her state’s safe haven law, she might have chosen differently. Safe havens give mothers another option, babies another chance, and people on both sides of the abortion debate an opportunity to work together. Those who are truly “pro-choice” certainly won’t resist a mother’s decision to safely surrender her newborn. And the rest of us know that more ways to choose life are good for the mother, the child, and the world. We must do everything within our power to make this world safer for every beloved image-bearer.

Ericka Andersen

Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Indianapolis. She is the author of Leaving Cloud 9 and Reason to Return: Why Women Need the Church & the Church Needs Women. Ericka hosts the Worth Your Time podcast. She has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Christianity Today, USA Today, and more.

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