Many of us have heard it said that the moral test of government is how we treat those in the dawn of life, the shadows of life, and the twilight of life. Here in the Ohio General Assembly, we hold sacred the mission of protecting the life of every human being in our state, including those in the pre-dawn of life. I am proud of the efforts we have made to defend Ohio’s unborn through legislation that reduces the number of lives lost. But once a child is saved and a new baby enters the world, we are no less responsible for ensuring its survival. That’s where Ohio’s Safe Haven law comes in.
Several months ago, the statewide news reported a case involving a newborn who was found dead outside a sorority house on a college campus in Ohio. This situation is tragic, rare and preventable. In 2001, Ohio state lawmakers passed Safe Haven legislation to allow the parent of a child 30 days old or younger to anonymously leave their baby with a peace officer, hospital employee or emergency medical service worker without the threat of prosecution. Today, all 50 states have laws on the books, called “safe haven” or “Baby Moses” laws, to allow a parent to surrender a child up to a certain age limit.
Many Ohioans are still unfamiliar with Ohio’s Safe Haven law, which is unfortunate given the impact it can make on newborn babies and their parents. Immediately following the passage of the law in 2001, an average of 10 to 13 babies per year were left with peace officers or hospital personnel. By 2005, however, that number had declined to 3 babies annually. Since then, the number has not risen higher than 5 babies. Nearly fifteen years after the passage of the law, too many Ohioans are unaware of the options available to them.
The Safe Haven law has the potential to save the lives of countless newborns that, through no fault of their own, are born to parents who are unwilling or unable to take care of them. Giving parents the option to leave their babies with trained workers gives our society’s most vulnerable citizens a better chance at growing up in a healthy, loving environment.
The parents themselves also benefit immeasurably from Ohio’s Safe Haven law. Many birth mothers and fathers find themselves in desperate situations for reasons we can’t know or judge, and they are unable to assume the responsibilities of parenthood. Allowing them to leave their infant in a safe place gives them the opportunity to save the life of that child and provide him or her with a better chance at a secure, stable life. Vilifying parents who abandon their children will not save any lives, but providing an alternative to abandonment can make all the difference. Removing the threat of prosecution increases the chances of a parent acting to save their child’s life instead of abandoning them.
I believe that even one life saved makes this legislation worthwhile public policy for the State of Ohio. To that end, I urge you to help me raise awareness in our communities about Ohio’s Safe Haven law. Ohio’s infant mortality crisis is complex and multifaceted, but making parents-to-be aware of Safe Harbor laws is one tangible way to prevent situations of abandonment, neglect and possible death. In the dawn of their lives, babies desperately need our protection. Join me in advocating on their behalf by spreading the word about Ohio’s life-saving Safe Haven law.
For more information about Ohio’s Safe Haven law, please visit http://www.jfs.ohio.gov/safehavens/index.stm.