Infants are abandoned by their mothers on a daily basis in the United States. Abuse, mental illness and societal pressures often prompt women to make decisions that many would find unthinkable. In 2001, Tennessee state government issued a law that would allow women a way to safely and anonymously surrender their babies to the state.
Called the Safe Haven Law, the legislation allows women to anonymously surrender unharmed babies under three days old to fire departments, police stations, health departments and the hospital. Mothers have up to 30 days to reclaim their children if they change their minds, and as long as there are no symptoms of abuse present, children are returned to their mothers with no questions asked. As beneficial as it is, this option remains unknown to many women in Tennessee.
Maryville College senior Kaylie Hall serves as a local advocate and educator for the law. Hall is the primary intern for A Secret Safe Place for Newborns, an organization which works to educate individuals on the law.
Hall’s tasks as an intern are varied and she does everything from drafting emails to fundraising and grant writing. Her main job, however, is to speak to high school and college students about the law and what it means for them. Hall said it is important for young people of all ages to know what their options are in the face of an unplanned pregnancy.
“If something terrible is happening to a young woman, they have the option to not hurt their child,” Hall said, adding that while the law protects mothers it also helps their children. “A baby that would have been dumped in a trashcan now can have a new life.”
As of 2015, the Tennessee state government has taken in 80 surrendered children. Hall said that, although the service is there and working, infant abandonment still occurs throughout the state because people do not realize that anonymous surrender is an option. As a mother, Hall feels particularly connected to the cause.
“We don’t ever judge the mothers that do not want their baby…” Hall said. “With an unplanned pregnancy, we try to see the whole perspective of that mother.”
As part of her job, Hall makes “mother packets” which the organization gives to mothers who surrender their children. These packets include basic things like a telephone number to call if they have questions and pamphlets explaining the Safe Haven law but also something much more special. Hall says that each packet comes with a hospital bracelet that matches the hospital bracelet the organization will give to the baby. On a practical level, the matching numbers on the bracelet make it easy to return a baby to its mother if she chooses to reclaim him or her, but Hall said it also serves as a memento for the mother and the child.
For more information about the Safe Haven Law, A Secret Safe Place for Newborns can be contacted at 865-254-2208. The organization also has a 24-hour helpline at 1-866-699-SAFE.