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Safe-haven laws (also known in some states as a "Baby Moses laws") are statutes in the United States that decriminalize the leaving of unharmed infants with statutorily designated private persons so that the child becomes a ward of the state. "Safe-haven" laws typically let parents remain nameless to the court, often using a numbered bracelet system as the only means of linking the baby to the mother.[1]

Some states treat safe-haven surrenders as child dependency or abandonment, with a complaint being filed for such in juvenile court. The parent either defaults or answers the complaint. Other states treat safe-haven surrenders as adoption surrenders, hence a waiver of parental rights (see parental responsibility). Police stations, hospitals, rescue squads, and fire houses are all typical locations to which the safe-haven law applies.[2]


Supporters of safe-haven laws claim that the laws save lives by encouraging parents to surrender infants safely instead of aborting, killing, or discarding them. Detractors claim that, because safe-haven laws do not require parents to be under stress, parents will use the law largely to avoid notice to the non-surrendering parent.

Detractors also claim that safe-haven laws undercut temporary surrender laws, which were enacted specifically for parents who are unsure about whether to keep or relinquish their children. Supporters counter by arguing that anonymity is the only way to convince certain parents not to harm their infants, and that the benefit outweighs any claimed detriment.

Controversy has arisen out the safe-haven law enacted in Nebraska in July 2008. The Nebraska law has been interpreted to define a child as anyone under 18,[3] and has resulted in the desertion of teenage children.[4] The law was changed in November 2008, allowing infants up to thirty-days old to be abandoned. 35 children were dropped off in Nebraska hospitals in a four month span. None were infants.[5]


As of January 8, 2006, only one case had challenged the constitutionality of a safe-haven law. Unable to allege personal harm, the plaintiff argued that all parents needed to know ahead of time that the State would not help parents hide children from each other. Further, because anonymity deprived a non-surrendering parent of a remedy from the outset, and could apply to any parent for any reason, the law threatened the public at large. The court dismissed the case, however, finding that the alleged harm did not rise to the level necessary to justify a public action.[6] Accordingly, the plaintiff's claim that the safe-haven law violated the separation of powers doctrine by circumventing the Supreme Court's rule-making authority was not addressed.

But in late 2007, an Ohio Court of Common Pleas ruled that the entire Ohio Deserted Child Act was void for violating the Supreme Court's rule-making authority. In re Baby Boy Doe, 145 Ohio Misc.2d 1, 2007-Ohio-7244. There, the mother had left the child at the hospital, expressing an intent to leave the child there and to have the child adopted. The mother never contacted the hospital or the state agency later regarding the child. The alleged father's identity and location were not fully known. After being granted temporary custody, the state agency moved for permanent custody, as needed for adoption. The attorney and the guardian ad litem for the child challenged the constitutionality of the safe-haven law, arguing that certain statutes of it violated the separation of powers doctrine under Art IV, Sec. 5(B) of the Ohio Constitution. The court agreed, finding that the safe-haven laws' notice and anonymity statutes conflicted with the notice provisions of Juvenile Rule 15 and the due diligence requirements of other court rules. Juv.R. 15 required issuing summons to the parties ordering them to appear before the court. Under Juv.R. 2(Y) parents were mandated parties. Because the underlying purpose of the safe-haven law was to keep parents anonymous and immune from prosecution, Juvenile Rule 15 undermined the safe-haven laws' purpose. But the anonymity and notice statutes being procedural, the court rules governed. Then, because the notice and anonymity statutes could not be reconciled with the remaining safe-haven statutes, the entire safe-haven law was of no force and effect. The original safe-haven complaint and permanent custody motion were dismissed. The case does not appear to have been appealed.[7]

Current statusEdit

In the spring of 2008 Nebraska and Alaska both passed their safe-haven laws. Currently all 50 states have a form of safe-haven law.[8]


  1. Video - Breaking News Videos from
  2. - Driver, 2 Others Arrested In Abandoned Baby Case
  4. includeonly>Koch, Wendy. "Nebraska 'safe-haven' law for kids has unintended results", USA Today. Retrieved on 12 December 2010.
  5. Heineman Signs New Safe-haven Law
  6. Smith v. Hayes (Ohio 2005) - Plaintiff's Website
  7. Opposition to Ohio Safe-haven Law Amendment (S.B. 304). URL accessed on 12 December 2010.
  8. includeonly>"Nebraska's "Safe-haven" Law Allows Parents To Abandon Unwanted Children", The Huffington Post, 2008-08-22. Retrieved on 12 December 2010.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

{[enWP|Safe-haven law}}

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