Carol Sanger: “Infant Safe Haven Laws: Legislating in the Culture of Life”

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I heard Carol give a really interesting presentation about this paper a year or so ago, and am happy to see that it is now available at SSRN here. Below is the abstract:

This Article analyzes the politics, implementation, and influence of Infant Safe Haven laws. These laws, enacted across the states in the early 2000s in response to much-publicized discoveries of dead and abandoned infants, provide for the legal abandonment of newborns. They offer new mothers immunity and anonymity in exchange for leaving their babies at designated Safe Havens. Yet despite widespread enactment, the laws have had relatively little impact on the phenomenon of infant abandonment. This Article explains why this is so, focusing particularly on a disconnect between the legislative scheme and the characteristics of neonaticidal mothers that makes the use of Safe Havens less likely.

The heart of the argument, however, focuses not on what Safe Haven laws fail to accomplish, but on what they achieve. This Article argues that these laws are properly understood within a larger political culture, one increasingly organized around the protection of unborn life, and that identifies itself as the “culture of life.” By connecting infant life to unborn life and infanticide to abortion, Safe Haven laws work subtly to promote the political goal of the culture of life: the reversal of Roe v. Wade. The laws’ primary achievements may therefore be less criminological than cultural. Through an investigation of state legislative histories, this Article suggests that the rhetoric and politics of abortion set the stage for the quick enactment of Safe Haven laws nationwide. It also examines the legislative and social mechanisms by which unwed pregnancy and abortion have been taken off the table, creating a psychological crisis that leads some young women to fatally abandon their newborns.

I was thinking of Carol’s work on this issue when two days ago my local newspaper reported:

A mother who left her newborn child at a Gaffney hospital last week has been charged with neglect after the baby tested positive for marijuana and cocaine.

Hannah Lauren Jolly, 20, of Gaffney took her newborn baby girl to Upstate Carolina Medical Center on Thursday morning and told nurses a friend had given birth to the child, Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said Monday.

The child was relinquished under a state law known as Daniel’s Law that grants prosecutorial immunity from abandonment charges to those who leave babies younger than 30 days old at a hospital, church, synagogue, fire department or outpatient medical facility.

After the baby tested positive for drugs last week, officers tracked down Jolly, who turned herself in Monday and was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.

Blanton said Jolly was not charged because she left the baby at the hospital.

“But you can’t use drugs while you’re pregnant : that’s a crime : and you can’t use Daniel’s Law to circumvent the law,” he said.

The child has been released to the Department of Social Services. A hearing to determine where the child should be placed will be held at Aug. 9.

The child neglect charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

–Ann Bartow

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