Is it true that you can abandon a newborn at a hospital or police station without penalty?
Yes, it is true that an infant can be left at a hospital, police station or fire station – or with some other responsible person – without penalty. (The specific requirements vary from state to state.)
The intent of these laws, of course, is to give mothers in crisis an incentive to safely relinquish their babies to designated locations where the babies can be protected and provided with medical care until a permanent home is found.
Safe haven laws generally allow the parent, or an agent of the parent, to remain anonymous and to be shielded from prosecution for abandonment or neglect in exchange for surrendering the baby to a safe haven.
The first such “Infant Safe Haven” law was enacted in Texas in 1999 and, by 2008, all 50 states have a version of this law. (As of 2013, the Alaska law had not been used.)
Maryland’s Infant Safe Haven law was enacted in 2002, and these are its requirements:
- A person who leaves an unharmed newborn with a responsible adult within 10 days after its birth, and does not express an intent to return, is immune from civil liability or criminal prosecution for the act.
- The person leaving the newborn must either be the mother or have the approval of the mother to do so.
- The person with whom the newborn is left under these circumstances must take the newborn to a hospital as soon as reasonably possible.
- The hospital that accepts a newborn must notify the local department of social services within 24 hours of accepting the newborn.
- A responsible adult or hospital that accepts a newborn is immune from civil liability or criminal prosecution for good faith actions related to accepting the newborn.
After the child is accepted, social services places the infant in foster care or in a preadoptive home and petitions the court for termination of the birth parent’s parental rights. Then, the child can be adopted.
If you know anyone in this situation, be sure to tell them that they have these options.
But be careful to check the law in your state because the details can be quite different than the Maryland law I have described.
**These questions and answers are designed to provide helpful information that can be read quickly. They are neither a full explanation of the subject nor legal advice. To learn more, and to receive legal advice on which you can rely, contact me or another lawyer.