Twins' deaths show need for safe haven laws

Baptist Press
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Posted: Nov 03, 2011 5:52 PM
Twins' deaths show need for safe haven laws
WASHINGTON (BP) -- A recent incident of double infanticide in Tennessee demonstrates the importance of mothers in crisis being aware of safe haven laws.

Lindsey Lowe of Hendersonville, Tenn., admitted to killing her newborn twin boys on the night of Sept. 12 and has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. She gave birth to them in the bathroom, covered their mouths one at a time until they stopped breathing and placed them in a laundry basket. According to a police affidavit, Lindsey feared her parents would hear the cries and find out about the pregnancy she had kept secret from family and friends.

Police said when the bodies of Mark Alvin Michael Lowe and Paul Duvoll Tate Lowe were found, they appeared to be full term, weighing five or six pounds each.

Dead or barely surviving babies have been discovered in trash chutes, garbage bins and even laundry baskets in the United States. The mothers who abandoned them apparently felt they had no other options. Increased awareness of safe haven laws could aid mothers in such crises and their babies, advocates say.

A safe haven law enables a mother to leave an unharmed child at a local medical facility, police station, fire department, church or other designated site without fear of criminal prosecution. In 1999, Texas became the first state to implement what has been nicknamed the Baby Moses Law. Since then, the other 49 states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.

The conditions regarding when and where babies may be surrendered differ by state. The National Safe Haven Alliance website (nationalsafehavenalliance.org) documents each state's law, six of which are mentioned below:

-- New York: A child as much as 30 days old can be left with any responsible adult.

-- Tennessee: A child up to three days old can be left at a hospital, birthing center or health clinic.

-- District of Columbia: A child as much as seven days old can be left at a hospital, fire department, police station or emergency medical service (EMS) provider.

-- North Dakota: A child as old as one year can be left at a hospital.

-- Arizona: A child up to three days old can be left at an adoption agency, child welfare agency, hospital, fire department, EMS provider or church.

-- Texas: A child as much as 60 days old can be left at a hospital, EMS provider or child welfare agency.

The potential effectiveness of safe haven laws has been shown in Florida. Nick Silverio, founder of A Safe Haven for Newborns, says 160 babies have been safely relinquished into custody since the law went into effect more than 11 years ago.

Each child surrendered in Florida is placed on one of the 60 participating adoption agency lists after being medically cleared -- that is, if the mother does not change her mind about the decision. Mothers are given 30 days in Florida to reclaim their children.

Silverio wants to "educate expectant mothers about the safe-haven law and the support they have available," he told the Orlando Sentinel. Firefighters and hospital workers are taught through Web-based training how to react in these situations, according to the report.

Mary Spaulding-Balch of the National Right to Life Committee told Baptist Press that Lindsey Lowe was "not acting rationally" and that the issue could have been handled differently.

"Safe haven laws serve a specific function, and a positive one at that, to ensure a newborn is placed somewhere safely," Spaulding-Balch said. "They are effective to the extent that they are known about."

While it is too late for Lowe to save her twins, Lt. Scott Ryan of the Hendersonville Police Department encourages expectant mothers to consider their options before taking the lives of innocent babies.

"No matter how bleak the outlook may be for you, let someone who's not within these boundaries take a look at your issues and try to help you out," Ryan told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. "We beg you, when you have a difficult situation such as this, please come to us and let us help you before the mistakes are made."

Holly Naylor is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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