Archive for Saturday, March 6, 2004

Abandoned-baby laws have been disappointment to some

March 6, 2004

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— Baby Hope was 2 days old when his mother smothered him by wrapping his face and arms in duct tape and stuffing his tiny body in a black plastic bag.

Last month, the newborn's mother, Kenisha Berry, was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder -- but only after she had allegedly abandoned another baby, a girl who was left in a ditch and bitten all over by ants before she was rescued.

The case was just another example of how the nation's first Baby Moses Law -- enacted in 1999 to discourage mothers from leaving their unwanted babies to die -- has not been as effective as some advocates had hoped.

"I wasn't even aware of all the details of the Baby Moses Law to be honest with you," Port Neches Police Chief C.E. Marsh said after the January arrest of a 15-year-old girl whose baby was found dead in a duffel bag in her bedroom.

Texas' Baby Moses Law offers parents immunity from prosecution if they safely turn over unwanted infants less than 60 days old at fire stations and hospitals. Since Texas passed its law, 44 other states have enacted similar legislation.

But only 15 babies have been legally surrendered in Texas since 1999, according to the Baby Moses Project, which promotes the law. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services says 182 infants were illegally abandoned and found alive between 2000 and 2003. Over that same period, babies were found dead in trash bins, shoeboxes and fields, though the state has no exact count. Others were almost certainly dumped and never found.

The results in other states have been mixed.

Louisiana has not seen a single legally abandoned baby in the three years since its law took effect, said Anthony Ellis, a spokesman with the Louisiana Department of Social Services.

New York, on the other hand, has been more successful, thanks largely to the AMT Children of Hope Foundation. It rescued 19 babies from parents who did not want them in 2002 and 2003, said Tim Jaccard, its director.

Jaccard credited much of the foundation's success to the work of its 162 volunteers, all of whom are New York City Police Department medics. They have an 800-number that is staffed around the clock, they hand out business cards with the number at schools and community centers, and they arrange to meet with women who want to drop off a baby.

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