First in the front door that Sunday morning, J.C. Gumm found a five-pound surprise as he entered church. "I heard noises like a baby cooing," Gumm said. Mr. Gumm had arrived early at church on this beautiful September day to play bass guitar in the worship band. "Oh wow, there's a baby in a towel," he said to himself. "I was thinking, 'What's a baby doing there?' I was pretty shocked." It was just like a scene from a movie.
Panic-stricken and afraid, a young woman, aged 22, thinking she read online that it is legal to leave a baby anonymously at a church as a "safe haven," had left her child. No one knew but her ex-boyfriend that she was pregnant. She had carried the baby girl one-third of a mile to the local Presbyterian Church, and left her near the entrance in hopes of giving her daughter a better life.
A couple of hours earlier, she had secretly given birth, all alone, by herself, outdoors in a yard near the apartment building where she lived with her father. Reading instructions from the Internet, she delivered the baby after three hours of labor, cut the umbilical cord with scissors, and wrapped her in a towel. She threw the placenta in the trash. The woman intended to get warmer clothing for the baby and write a note, but she had accidentally locked herself out of the apartment.
Gumm cradled the baby in his arms until paramedics arrived. "It's going to be OK," he reassured the baby. "Help's on the way." The baby girl was whisked off to a hospital where nurses nicknamed the baby girl "Autumn Doe" in recognition of the season.
Government prosecutors are now charging the woman with third-degree abandonment of a dependent person, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Although the baby had a slight case of hypothermia (which is common even among newborns in hospitals), she quickly recovered.
The tragedy of this story is, however, if the mother had killed her baby by having an abortion months earlier, she would be safe. Instead, she is being treated as a criminal in Washington State.
Some states allow newborns to be left at churches; in Washington, it is only legal at a fire station or hospital within 72 hours of birth. The mother told police, "I thought I could have sworn I read churches too." The father, who was in Wisconsin for training with the National Guard, is soon scheduled for deployment to Iraq. He pressed the woman in late February or March to get an abortion. Now his mother will care for the baby until he returns in 10 months.
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