Policy & Practice: Advocacy
August 29, 2006Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: Urging a veto of AB 1873
Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:
I am writing on behalf of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute to strongly urge you to veto AB 1873, the Safely Surrendered Baby Act. Based on both research and experience, we can say with near certainty that the revision the California Legislature has approved in this statute (i.e., expanding the time limit for legally abandoning a baby from 72 hours to 30 days) will do absolutely nothing to save infants' lives - but, instead, will increase the number of anonymously deserted children, systemically strip biological fathers of their rights, cause lifelong grief to growing numbers of birthmothers, divest adoptive parents of vital information with which to raise their children, and institutionally deprive additional adoptees of their medical, genealogical and historical information.
In the way of quick background, the Adoption Institute is a nonpartisan, national nonprofit that is independent of any constituency, group or cause. It does not make money from adoption and has no financial or other vested interest in this issue or its outcome. The Institute is the pre-eminent policy, research and education organization in its field; its mission is to improve the lives of everyone touched by adoption - especially children - by promoting better laws, policies and "best practices" that are based on sound research.
A few years ago, we conducted a groundbreaking study of "safe haven" laws such as the one in California; it raised serious concerns about their effectiveness and consequences. The study - available at http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/whowe/Last%20report.pdf - concluded there is no evidence these statutes are working as their proponents had hoped, principally because they do not address the causes of the problem. In addition to that counter-intuitive conclusion, our research indicates these laws cause an array of negative, unintended consequences; these include encouraging women to conceal pregnancies and give birth alone in unsafe settings - causing a risk to their own lives and those of their children - and then to abandon their infants, undermining adoption through established legal procedures.
It is clear that, in California as in other states, legally sanctioned infant abandonment has not put a dent into the problem these laws were intended to address: the unsafe desertion of newborns in trash cans, bathrooms and other horrible places where their lives are put in jeopardy. Research indicates the flaw in these laws is based on the fact that women who take such drastic actions (almost always with newborns, not babies who are 72 hours old much less ones who are 30 days old) are suffering from post-partum psychosis or other factors that prevent them from thinking cogently. So the number of unsafely abandoned children is not falling, nor will it fall if the time limit grows to 30 days. All that will happen is that more girls and women will be persuaded that deserting their babies is a socially sanctioned (and even encouraged) response to a crisis pregnancy; at the very least, it's a terrible lesson in not taking personal responsibility. Moreover, it circumvents established adoption and child-welfare practices, deprives all parties of the opportunity for counseling or exchanging medical information, starkly sends the signal that fathers have no rights or say in the decision, and even allows child abusers additional time to let wounds heal and safely cover their tracks.
For all those reasons and many others, I respectfully and strongly urge you to veto this well-intentioned but highly problematic legislation.
Please read the Adoption Institute's report on safe havens and consider its findings, which have been borne out in practice in California and across the country. FYI, conclusions identical to those reached by our researchers have been reported by child-welfare advocates across the political spectrum, by academic institutions including in your own state, as well as by nonpartisan organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America.
Please feel free to contact me directly at 617-332-8944 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, require additional information, or want to discuss any aspect of this issue. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.