It was not common for parents to abandon their children in the United States. Their unplanned pregnancy placed them at high risk due to cultural and social pressures. They felt that they could not hide it, have the baby alone, or abandon the infant.
The rollback of Roe v. Wade Because of limited access to contraception, the number of at-risk parents has increased. These people are not considered extreme outliers, but more likely to be a typical person of reproductive age in any state that bans abortion or restricts access to contraception.
The legal landscape is shifting in alarming ways—which traumatizes birth parents and children alike through unwanted births, while feeding a profitable adoption system.
Privately funded “baby boxes”—modern versions of medieval abandonment wheels—are being installed in so many locations that they are quietly shaping a national infrastructure. Nine states have already updated their safe harbor laws to allow parents to use them. A further nine states are planning similar changes in this legislative session.
What’s wrong with baby boxes? Their increased use is a sign of people being forced to have children and pregnant. Second, they’re an indicator of mistrust between communities and state-sponsored services. Due to bias and social stigma, many people don’t feel safe going to alternative surrender sites like hospitals, fire stations, paramedics or child services. Third, many parents are forced to abandon due to economic constraints—the current “baby box” system fast-tracks their children to pre-approved economically secure families while the birth parent’s rights are rapidly terminated. Fourth, baby boxes show that while we care about the babies, we don’t extend care to birth parents or struggling families.
Funds from the baby box could have been used to finance access to childcare or birth control so parents could keep their babies.
Each box costs $20,000 and totals $2.76 million. Ninety-two boxes have been installed in Indiana, and the state recently approved $1 million more baby box funds. Nineteen percent of single mothers in Indiana live in poverty; many don’t have access to birth control or abortion; half of the pregnancies in the state are unwanted or unplanned; and there’s no access to anonymous birth.
These circumstances are not accidental but are the result of intentional laws and policies—and are reflective of parents’ circumstances across the country. Baby box funds might have been used to finance access to childcare or birth control so parents could maintain their babies and find work.
The media is full of stories that celebrate parents who surrender children as being “heroic” and “selfless,” but none of the articles mention how horrific it is that the birth parent may be hemorrhaging or suffering from a massive infection from having birthed alone, without access to medical care or trauma counseling. These women are not just incubators to complete other people’s families. And yet, the rollback RoeEconomists predict that there will be 50,000 more unplanned or unwanted births each year. This means that current U.S. laws can lead to thousands of traumatized family members.
There are many ways we can increase reproductive freedom. We should also offer anonymous birth so at-risk birth parents aren’t forced to place themselves and their infants in danger during delivery. Safe haven laws should be revamped to remove “gotcha” clauses that prosecute parents despite their untenable circumstances.
Local communities and legislators must work together to identify where parents feel most comfortable if they have to abandon their child. Then, update the laws as necessary. This flawed, judgemental system must be changed.
This column was created for Progressive Perspectives magazine. It is distributed by Tribune News Service.
Leave a Reply