Does BC need a Safe Haven Law?

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As Vancouverites continue to mourn a newborn found in a portable toilet on the Downtown Eastside, questions are being raised over whether BC needs a version of a Safe Haven Law, variations of which exist in every US state.

The law in general protects a woman from any prosecution when she chooses to hand over her baby to either a police officer, a firefighter or a hospital employee.

Mike Morrisey is the founder of Safe Haven New England. The law in that state and in Massachusetts were adopted in the early 2000s.

He considers the law and accompanying programs a success, even though no mothers have chosen to hand over their babies to any first responders in recent years.

“We’ve had years where nobody uses the Safe Haven Law. Yet we have gone eight years where we’ve had no abandonments. In Massachusetts prior to the law passing, we used to have three abandonments per year – half of them were fatal.”

He credits marketing and advertising focussed on young people who learn about the programming and services that go along with the law, at least in Massachusetts and New England.

“They know they can do something like call a hotline, and arrange to have a delivery in a hospital confidentially and then walk away,” he points out. “They’ll get counselled into doing a parenting plan or an adoption plan, instead of going through with delivering a baby in secret then bringing it to the door one of the facilities.”

St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver opened its Angel’s Cradle in 2010. Two babies have been dropped off at the anonymous drop-space in that time.

But Morrisey feels all distressed mothers need access to emergency options.

“What do you do when you’re more than two miles away from that hospital?” he asks. “We’ve learned from the safe surrenders that we have had, is that the average travel distance someone goes to, to surrender a newborn is two to three miles.”

He says he’s had some interest from Canada to adopt similar laws here.

“There have been a few people but they only consider the easy thing to do, and that is simply to install baby drop-off boxes.”

He says that’s an unsuccessful strategy, pointing to South Africa, where drop-off boxes are common, yet thousands of babies are abandoned yearly.

He says passing a law and creating a space for babies are insufficient. He stresses his organization is behind TV commercials and even concert sponsorships that target young people.

“We care about what 14- and 18-year olds think. We’ve got to get into their ‘society’ and make Baby Safe Haven a household phrase.”

The BC Coroners Service could not tell NEWS 1130 what will happen with the remains of the body of the baby. It says the investigation is in its early stages.

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