A Nebraska man abandoned his nine children at an Omaha hospital last night. Under Nebraska’s new “safe haven” law, a “child” can be left at a hospital and Nebraska parents have begun abandoning teenagers as well as toddlers.
Roger Munns of the Iowa Department of Human Services says Iowa’s “safe haven” law stipulates the child must be a newborn. “When I’ve talked about the safe haven law in the past, I’ve always emphasized that in Iowa it only applies to cases of infants up to age 14 days and then I add with a little tongue-in-cheek joke that you can’t drop off your unruly, disruptive, tailback teenager who won’t come home at night,” Munns says. “You can’t take that child to the hospital and say, ‘I’m tired of this kid — you take him!’ That is not appropriate in Iowa.”
Iowa’s “safe haven” law took effect July 1, 2001. The law was passed after the high-profile “Baby Chelsea” case. Nicole Plum, a 17-year-old at the time with an unwanted pregnancy, gave birth but then abandoned her baby in a field. The baby’s frozen body was found near the town of Chelsea and townsfolk named it “Baby Chelsea” and arranged for its burial. “It was thought, at the time, that if that teenager had known that she could safely and without repercussions and with no questions asked leave the child at a hospital or some other safe place — if she had known about it — perhaps that life would have been saved,” Munns says.
In the past seven years since Iowa’s safe haven law took effect, 11 women have given up their parental rights to their unwanted babies. All 11 infants have been adopted, according to Munns. “In almost all of these cases it’s been a homesteader child being taken to a hospital emergency room, sometimes without notes or even any identification whatsoever,” Munns says.
Again, Nebraska’s law is different from Iowa’s and parents in that state have begun abandoning teenagers. Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services this morning asked Nebraska lawmakers to redo the law and announced the parents who dropped off older kids at a hospital are still responsible for those children and will have to pay child support and attend counseling and therapy sessions with their older kids.