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Bill to allow baby drop-off sends the wrong message

The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel
April 27, 2000

Who would argue against a law that protects infants?

At first glance, bill HB1901, which recently sailed through the House,
sounds sane and long overdue. Simply put, the legislation allows hospital
emergency rooms and fire stations to become safe places for a parent to
take a child up to three days after the baby's birth. Drop it off and walk
away.

No questions asked. No prosecution.

When you consider that during a six-week period earlier this year, six
mothers abandoned their babies either in trash bins or doorways, creating
"safe place" legislation appears common sense.

So why does the idea of legal abandonment make me wince?

Telling a woman or girl who is pregnant and wants no responsibility for
the infant after it is born that she can legally throw the child away
should be a last-ditch effort, not a front-end solution. Such a law would be
wonderful if it accompanied more programs that safeguard a girl's access
to sex education and birth control, but in a state where teen pregnancy could be considered an after-school curriculum, legal abandonment puts the cart before the pony.

Don't get me wrong; if all else fails, take the baby to the ER. Better
the hospital than buried underneath some trash.

That said, the question remains: Is the Florida Legislature asking
itself the right questions as it considers this feel-good law? Heck, who in his or her right mind wants to vote against safe babies? Rep. Lois Frankel says she was more than surprised when her dissent stood alone during the recent vote.

"I'm not ready yet to make it legal for someone to abandon their baby.
I think it's a simple solution to a very complex issue," Frankel says. "We
need to spend more time on how to prevent unwanted pregnancy. This is a
Legislature that put no new money into family planning, fights about sex
education, and well under-resources our child protection services."

That's my beef with HB1901, too.

Good intentions are free. Voting for this bill costs the state nothing.

Again, if the choice is between a safe place and a garbage can, I say,
create as many safe places as possible. However, haven't we missed a step?

If the numbers are soaring and child abandonment is illegal, what will
happen if it becomes acceptable?

The overwhelming majority of women who abandon babies are teens. Girls who wake up one morning with a secret. Doesn't common sense tell us that maybe the real solution is to prevent unwanted pregnancies among teen girls, rather than giving them a legal out after the fact?

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention month and the Broward
Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy kicks off on May 2 with workshops and speakers at the Broward Community College North Campus auditorium.

Along with speakers and skits and all the other hoopla, the Broward
Campaign is also sponsoring an essay writing contest. Teens 13 years old
to 18, in 200 to 300 words, must write on the following: What is the most
important choice you have made, and how has that choice impacted your
life?

Teens who participate will be forced to recognize that their actions
carry consequences.

Do you suppose a 13-year-old girl who has unprotected sex, hides her
pregnancy, gives birth alone, then drops her baby off at a safe place
recognizes the consequences of her actions?

Marilyn Bonilla Krantz, director for South Florida's Planned Parenthood
and coordinator for the Broward Campaign, believes a sense of
responsibility comes when teens understand their choices and what is at risk. What we want the teens to come away with is a real sense of empowerment, that they're making choices that will influence their future, she says.

Frankel says, It's horrible when you hear stories about an infant in a
Dumpster, but what about the message you send when you say to kids it's OK to drop a kid off at the hospital?

The message sounds loud and clear: You're only the parent. This thing
that was living inside you and now dares to enter the world? Hey, leave it
here; it's not your fault.

Now, doesn't that make you wince?

Sherri Winston's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be reached at swinston@sun-sentinel.com or 954-217-7156.

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