Answers to questions about newborn discard, including causes, statistics, and the use of safe haven laws and baby boxes.
What is newborn discard?
Living infants younger than 12 months left alone and unclaimed in public or other inappropriate places. We use “discard” and prefer the term “legal (or legalized) abandonment” to refer to Safe Haven and Safe Haven Baby Box procedures. See additional definitions.
What are the causes of newborn discard?
Causes of newborn discard in the United states today reflect a larger pattern of misogyny, racism, classism, ableism, theonomy, and a general lack of economic and social support systems, especially for women and children. These are realities that the Safe Haven Baby Boxes movement ignores in its advocacy.
Causes: denial or ignorance of pregnancy; inability to secure affordable and/or easily accessible medical treatment and care (including insurance); inability to secure affordable housing; draconian immigration policy and practice; fear of seeking assistance from “authority figures;” ignorance of assistance and options programs (including family preservation for pregnant women and new mothers); domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, mental illness.
Other factors: Shame, crime, dysfunctional family life/ relationships, and social isolation.
Lately, some SHBB advocates have claimed that sex trafficking of women and infants is a major impetus in infant discard AND the use of Safe Haven laws. We have found no evidence of widespread use of either discard or “legalized abandonment” due to trafifcking. We will post updates on this claim.
Although limited to Los Angeles County and self-reporting, the best on-the-ground studies on Safe Haven utilization, newborn discard, and neonaticide in the United States are found in the annual in-depth Safely Surrendered and Abandoned Infants in Los Angeles County studies published by the ICAN (Inter-Agency Council on Child Abandonment and Neglect)
How many newborns are discarded each year?
No one knows. The last “official” nationwide study of newborn discard was untaken over 20 years ago, when the US Department of Health and Human Services commisioned a Lexus search of selected newspapers for 1992 and 1997 to deterime how many newborns had been discarded or killed by their parents. The “study” was helpful, but superficial. Primary douments from social service and child protective agencies, death certificates, autopsies, court records, and other-data gathering suveys were not ultilized or simply not available, leaving newspapers as the default source. Newspaper reports still serve as the most acurate, but certainly incomplete, data source.
What did the HHS study show?
The flawed HHS study indicated that in 1992 65 infants were found discarded (57 alive and 8 dead). In 1997 out of a total of 3,80,895 live births (including 18,507 neonate deaths) 105 newborns were discarded–7 alive and 33 dead. A follow-up study, not released to the public, documented 83 discarded newborns in 2006. Obviously, discard and death cases were under-counted in those studies since there is no way to know the number of unknown births ending in natural or unatural death that were hidden.
Have the number of discards and deaths changed since the advent of Safe Haven Laws and Safe Haven Baby Boxes?
Today that number overall throughout the US remains about the same: around 100 discard cases a year are reported—a number that even SHBB advocates agree on. Some localities, however, report a lower number of discards over a period of years. All-in-all there is no way to actually know. Since genuine statistics do not agree with SHBB advocate claims of decreased discard rates, they focus on the number of unknown cases, which they have no way of knowing exist, since they are unknowable. Furthermore, SHBB Inc. push the idea that anonymous women who use (or will use) SHBB are potentially homicidal, under desperate circumstances, and despite their great love for their babies, would have to kill them if boxes were not available. There is no evidence to support this allegation. When a box is used, SHBB Inc. often holds a press conference where speakers stress that the babies are “perfect,” “well-cared” for, and “loved.”