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Panic-Stricken Mother Faces Charges for not Aborting Child

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

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.

Although this young woman made an error in judgment by leaving her baby at the church, her intentions were right, and it highlights a problem in the law. She couldn't deal with the guilt of killing her child legally and she panicked. "I knew that if I were to leave it at the church, it would be taken care of, you know, put into an adoption agency and getting her a family that really wanted it and (could) give it a great life," she told police. "I cannot take care of a baby and I can't deal with it. I don't have a job. I'm not financially ready." The woman put a lot of effort into walking to the church and finding what she thought was a safe place for the baby.

The woman acted responsibly by calling the police the next day and turning herself in to authorities. She read in the local paper a news release from police detectives saying they "are concerned for the health and safety of the mother and are eager to identify her to ensure that she receives appropriate care." In reality, it was a trick.

Unfortunately, charging this young woman sends the wrong message. It will cause other mothers to abort their babies. Worse yet, they may put them in the trash where no one will find them. Obviously, this mother thought that leaving her child at a church was within the parameters of the safe-haven law.

She needs help, not punishment. She has already gone through enough. Prosecuting her is neither helpful nor warranted. Sure, prosecutors can make her a criminal, but her baby can live a normal, long life. Aborted children have no such opportunity.

The government is trying to make an example out of her and the message the prosecutor is sending out to women is loud and clear: It is better to abort your baby than face prosecution.

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