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Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2000 /18 Adar I, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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A safe place --
OUR PROSPEROUS, lively, comfortable nation is facing a sudden upsurge in a problem as ancient as leprosy -- baby abandonment and murder.

Tales of high-school girls giving birth at proms and in Disney World bathrooms, and either strangling their children or leaving them for dead, have made chilling headlines. Such stories, we are now learning, are not freak incidents. In the first 10 months of 1999, 13 babies were abandoned at birth in the city of Houston alone.

Of these, three were found dead. The FBI says that five infants under age 1 are murdered every week, but the government does not keep separate statistics on baby abandonment. Those working in the field estimate that anywhere between several hundred and several thousand babies are exposed or thrown in dumpsters every year.

The stories continue to flow in. In Germantown, Md., a baby was found in a trash can in a residential neighborhood. Wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a K-mart shopping bag, along with sanitary napkins, underwear, a chicken bone and other trash, the baby screamed in the freezing temperatures. Neighbors heard her cries and rescued her only minutes before the trash collectors would have dumped the contents of the bin.

In just the past 12 months, newborns -- or parts of newborns -- have been found on railroad tracks, on supermarket shelves (behind the diapers), in unheated laundry rooms and in a vast variety of trash bins.

Around the nation, legislators are attempting to come to grips with this rash of abandonments by passing legislation to make it easier for desperate young women to relinquish their newborns with no questions asked. Amazingly enough, this simple legislation is getting flack.

The Texas law, sponsored by State Rep. Geanie Morrison, permits mothers to relinquish their babies up to the age of 30 days at any hospital, fire station, police station or social service agency office. The mother will not be required to provide any identifying information and will not be prosecuted for abandonment.

"I'm not for anything that makes abandonment easier," Judy Hay of the Texas Children's Protective Services told USA Today. "I want questions asked, so the child won't wonder some day: 'What's my medical background? Am I at risk for sickle cell? For breast cancer?' You're condemning someone to the lifelong question, 'Who am I?'"

Yes, in the ideal world, everyone would be raised by his happy, married, wealthy, biological parents. But isn't it preferable to be alive and able to wonder about one's ancestry than to be left to freeze to death?

Bastard Nation and other adoption opponents also object to laws that make adoption of unwanted infants easier. And some misguided conservatives actually argue that offering this anonymous option for mothers will encourage irresponsible sex.

Is a teen-age girl going to figure, "OK, I'll have sex now because if I get pregnant I can always hide my pregnancy, deliver the child alone and in secret, and then drop it off at the hospital"?

Yes, legalized abortion has helped to create a moral climate in which disposing of newborns like trash is thinkable for so many young women. And certainly we should do everything possible to discourage teen sex. But that, really, is irrelevant to the question of whether these laws make sense.

Do we want to save the lives of these babies? Thousands of infertile couples stand ready to adopt them.

Two stories: In Mobile, Ala., a young girl delivered her son to a hospital. The nurse said she handed him over with no gentleness, "like a sack of groceries." Asked if she had any medical information to pass along, she turned on her heel and walked out.

The nurse then examined the little boy. His umbilical cord had been tied off. He stared back at the nurse "healthy as a horse and cute as a button." He will be adopted.

In Indianapolis, a 5-day-old boy, wrapped in a colorful blanket inside a laundry basket, was left in a snowy hospital parking lot. By the time he was discovered, he had frozen to death. If his mother had just taken a few more steps and delivered the child to anyone inside the building, that little boy, perfect in every way, would have been saved, too.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate