Susan Ayres


It is impossible to know the number of infants killed or illegally abandoned at birth. No official reporting requirements exist, but conservative estimates claim that in the United States, 150-300 infants are killed within twenty-four hours of life and that over 100 infants are illegally abandoned. Beginning in 1999, in an effort to stem the problem of neonaticide and illegal abandonment, states began enacting laws to legalize abandonment. By 2008, all fifty states had enacted safe haven laws, which allow parents to anonymously abandon newborns by delivering them to designated providers, such as hospitals.

This article provides a practical and theoretical framework to discuss safe haven laws, which have come under attack by various adoption groups and legal scholars who claim the laws are ineffective. This article demonstrates that those unjustified attacks fail to recognize that increased usage of safe haven laws in states with strong public awareness programs has effectively reduced the number of infant deaths in those states. Additionally, this article contrasts American safe haven laws with models in other countries, including anonymous birth in France and baby flaps in Germany. Finally, this article considers the rhetoric of legalized abandonment and suggests that the rhetoric of kairos, or right-timing, offers a pragmatic and feminist lens through which to view safe havens as one effective option for women facing the crisis of unwanted pregnancy.

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