ST. PAUL, Minn.—A study released by the Centers for Disease Control in March found that Americans are 10 times more likely to be murdered on the day of their birth than at any other point of their lives. It also found that between 1989 and 1998, 3,312 infant homicides were recorded in America; 7.3% of those occurred on the day of birth.
Such reports are “startling” to Laure Krupp, but it makes her feel even more energized about the work she has been called to do. Krupp serves as executive director of the Minnesota-based Safe Place for Newborns (the program), whose mission is to save the lives of newborns in danger of abandonment and to help preserve the health and future of their mothers.
The program, which was launched in January 2000 and signed into Minnesota law that April, offers anonymity and immunity from prosecution to any mother that decides to leave her baby, up to three days old, at any hospital in the state. Since then, more than 35 states have implemented laws modeled on the Minnesota law, and Safe Place for Newborns has opened two additional chapters in Wisconsin and Washington and started a national crisis hot-line.
The idea for Safe Place for Newborns sprung from a program that was started in Mobile, Ala., after 12 infants were abandoned in one county in the course of a year. Lilly Riordan, president of A Community Caring for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul, shared the idea with the Cathedral's then-parochial vicar, Father Andrew Cozzens. The two presented it to the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and the Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership, who gave it unanimous approval. On January 6, 2000, the program was launched at three hospitals in Dakota County.
What followed was in God's plan, said Father Cozzens. The night before the program launched, NBC News ran a lead story about the growing number of abandoned babies in the country. Providentially the program offered a solution and received national news coverage. One week later, a baby was found in a dumpster in Minneapolis and soon other county attorneys got involved with the program. Eventually the legislature took action and worked with Father Cozzens to write the law. the program retained control of the publicity and crisis line and pushed to ensure the women were guaranteed anonymity.
“Our goal is to make it as easy for a woman to bring her baby to a hospital as it is for her to put it in a trash can,” said Father Cozzens. “If we can point out to society the dignity of newborn life, they will also begin to see the dignity of unborn life,” said Father Cozzens.
When a baby is brought into a hospital, the mother is offered medical care and asked to fill out a form with some biological information, but it is not required. The baby is placed in foster care and put up for adoption after the time allowed for parental rights has terminated. Helen Healy, president of Safe Place for Newborns in Wisconsin, said this is a winning solution for everyone involved. “The baby lives, the mother does not have guilt and prosecution, and a family who wants to adopt a baby, gets a baby,” said Healy.
After Minnesota's law passed, Krupp was inundated with calls from legislators around the country who sought advice. Her office worked with Healy to start the Wisconsin chapter. Each state has different stipulations, so the program has included a section on its Web site, http://www.safeplacefornewborns.com that ,any woman can click on to find out about the legal parameters for relinquishing a child within her state.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that there are 300 to 400 reported cases of infants found dead or killed by their parents every year. Coined, neonatacide, concern has been mounting in recent years that it is becoming a national crisis. Krupp believes the sex education programs are partly to blame. “We have taught children that getting pregnant is the worst thing that could ever happen to them—worse than AIDS or cancer,” said Krupp. “We have really drilled this well into women,” she said. “The more that we as a culture are forced to look at the baby like a thing, the less we care about what happens to it.”
Healy said the average age of women who abandon their babies is 19, and the most common element among them is fear of being found out. “They either are in denial about their pregnancy, they do not know they are pregnant, or they conceal their pregnancy the third scenario is most dangerous,” added Healy.
Healy was particularly disturbed about a recent case in Eau Claire, Wis., when a college freshman who had concealed her pregnancy bled to death while giving birth in a dorm bathroom even as her friends knocked on the door and pleaded to let them help her. The baby died the next day.
“This is the woman that we concentrate on finding and serving with the program,” said Healy. “They don't even tell themselves they are pregnant, and end up having the baby and don't know what to do and they panic. If we can get the message out very clearly that if you have a baby, take the baby to a hospital. And if we can offer them anonymity and immunity then we can save the baby and save them from a lifetime of grief.”
The program is not able to track how many babies are saved through the program because of the confidentiality element. But they often get calls from a nurse or a social worker telling them a Safe Place for Newborns baby was brought in. Krupp also knows from the crisis line operators that many people are hearing about them. She was touched by a letter she received from a woman who thanked the program for what they were doing and told how desperately she wished they had been around 18 years ago instead of the Planned Parenthood that she turned to for help.
“To think our culture would say, ‘it's just a glob of cells; you lost nothing.’ But 18 years later, this girl was still tortured. And this is what we've done,” said Krupp. She is working to start more chapters in the country, and to that end, the program has created brochures, posters, billboards, public service announcements, TV ads and other materials that can be easily customized to each state.
Barb Ernster writes from