Safe Surrender bill should be enacted

My turn

Posted: Thursday, February 08, 2001

Safe Surrender is an offer of assistance to women who might otherwise abandon a newborn. Under existing law a woman who abandons an infant is tracked down by the police. Illegal abandonment can lead to a baby's death and mother's prosecution.

The Alaska Pro-Choice Alliance and Planned Parenthood of Alaska applaud Rep. Eric Croft and Sen. Bettye Davis for introducing the "Safe Surrender" bill. House Bill 29 and Senate Bill 22 allow a parent to surrender a newborn at a designated safe place where someone can attend to the infant's needs. Any parent who relinquishes an unharmed infant under this bill will have total anonymity and is guaranteed not to be prosecuted. Sixteen states have already passed similar laws. President Bush signed the first Safe Surrender bill into law while he was governor in Texas.

The Alaska Pro-Choice Alliance and Planned Parenthood encouraged Rep. Croft and Sen. Davis to introduce the bill to decriminalize infant abandonment. Alaska's open adoption law, while securing adoptees' rights, may deter women from adoption and push them toward abortion. Many of these women do not want their families to know about their pregnancy. There is no guarantee of privacy in open adoption; furthermore, adoption is a complicated and intrusive process. It requires permission from the father, questioning, paper work, etc. Safe Surrender is an offer of assistance to women who might otherwise abandon a newborn. Under existing law a woman who abandons an infant is tracked down by the police. Illegal abandonment can lead to a baby's death and mother's prosecution.

It is an unfortunate reality that 64 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Alaska has one of the highest rates of rape in the country. In our society, the woman bears the burden of fault and responsibility for an illegitimate child. A pregnant teen may fear reprisal from a parent, which could include physical abuse or being kicked out of her home. Psychologists know a teen can be in "massive denial" of a pregnancy, if she feels she has few choices. In a relationship, the risk of violence to a woman increases when an unintended pregnancy occurs. Unwanted or ill-timed children are frequently the object of abuse and neglect.

This is a first step. Safe Surrender does not address the societal ills that lead to unintended pregnancy and the drastic acts of infanticide and abandonment. Teens need to know if they make a mistake they will be treated compassionately by their family and society. Young people need to have honest and medically accurate sex education. We need enhanced out-reach support for at-risk parents. Greater access to birth control, including insurance coverage of all FDA approved contraception should be made available.

Ultimately a change in attitude is needed in our country. Women are objectified. Advertising urges us to buy through sexual innuendo. Many movies and television shows imply that sex is the "absolute high." In these mediums the consequences of sex remain invisible or minimized. Until this changes, the unspoken message we send our children is have sex, have sex, have sex. Censorship is not the answer. The responsibility is ours as individuals to change our attitudes, our priorities and how we spend our time and money.

Sen. Davis was an adopted child. She fully supports Safe Surrender. This legislation would help prevent child abuse, neglect and encourage adoption. Safe Surrender helps women take responsible action in a difficult situation. The bill should have the full support of both the pro-choice and anti-abortion communities. The Alaska Pro-Choice Alliance and Planned Parenthood encourage everyone - churches, child advocates, women's organizations to join us in support of Safe Surrender.

Anna Franks is executive director of Planned Parenthood of Alaska; Beth Landon chairs the Alaska Pro Choice Alliance.



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