CHICAGO BAR ASSOCIATION (CBA) OPPOSES HB 3753
This bill would amend the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act (‘Safe Haven Law’).
The CBA strongly opposes this bill because:
• It does not protect the rights of birth mothers and infants.
• It would pose significant safety risks to both birth mothers and infants.
• It is an extremely costly “solution” when Illinois law is already working well.
The 2001 Safe Haven Law prevents newborns from being abandoned unsafely (e.g., in alleyways/trash cans) by providing a safe, anonymous method of relinquishment, and immunizes the relinquishing parent from liability for abandonment. The infant must be handed directly to personnel at a hospital, fire station, police station or emergency medical facility. Trained staff must verbally provide information to the birth parents as to their rights, where the birth parent can go to receive counseling and medical care, and how to provide the child’s medical and family history information anonymously via the Illinois Adoption Registry. According to the Illinois Save Abandoned Baby Foundation and DCFS, over 125 infants have been relinquished anonymously since its passage (most recently 5 in 2020, 7 in 2019, and 9 in 2018). After relinquishment, infants are placed by licensed child welfare agencies into permanent adoptive homes. According to DCFS, nearly 30% of parents relinquishing under the Safe Haven Law in the past 5 years filed petitions for return of custody, obtained counseling and with the exception of one case, regained custody of the child.
OVERVIEW – REASONS FOR OPPOSING HB 3753
• HB 3753 permits drop off of infants in boxes (so-called newborn ‘safety devices’) at a relinquishment facility without any human interaction with trained health care
• HB 3753 flies in the face of Illinois public policy to provide relinquishing birth parents
information about their rights, medical/counseling services, and future exchange of information with the child in the most effective manner -through trained professionals.
• HB 3753 poses numerous safety risks to both infant and parent because of the elimination of interaction with a health care professional.
• HB 3753 creates confusion as to how to relinquish an infant in the event there is not an available box.
• HB 3753 poses privacy risks.
• HB 3753 is dehumanizing both to newborn and parent.
• HB 3753 requires the costly purchase and maintenance of “baby boxes” even though the current Safe Haven Law is working successfully.
DETAILED REASONS FOR OPPOSING HB 3753
1. HB 3753 Contravenes Established Illinois Public Policy to provide essential information to birth parents: Numerous sections of the Adoption Act, the Child Care Act and the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act reflect Illinois public policy that birth parents should have information about their rights/responsibilities as to relinquishments, termination of parental rights, counseling, and exchange of information, including anonymous exchange of critical medical information and family history with the adoptee. HB 3753 departs from this policy as follows:
a. Section 30 of HB 3753 eliminates the requirement to advise and provide information to birth parents as to their right to relinquish anonymously under the Safe Haven Law and their ability to petition the court to regain custody after an infant is deposited in a box. The fact that 30% of relinquishing parents in Illinois ultimately petitioned to seek custody under current law shows that the law is working effectively to educate birth parents of their rights.
b. Section 35 of HB 3753 eliminates the requirement on how to exchange information, including through the Adoption Registry, and information about counseling services—this also goes against Illinois public policy and potentially deprives the adoptee (and adoptive parents) of critical information.
2. HB3753 Creates Safety Risks for Infant and Parent: The box is called a ‘newborn safety device’. This is a misnomer; the safest relinquishment requires direct contact between a trained professional and the birth parent. Section 16 of HB 3753 only requires that the box placed in a hospital be in an area that is conspicuous and visible(undefined) to staff and is “in” the hospital (no alarm is required to advise staff that a baby has been deposited). For fire stations, police stations and emergency medical facilities, HB 3753 merely requires that the box be placed ‘at’ the site, has an alarm, is conspicuous and is tested only once a month. Moreover, the bill grants immunity for liability except for gross negligence, or willful/wanton misconduct. Inherent risks in relinquishments via boxes as described by HB 3753 as opposed to handing the baby to a trained professional include:
a. Danger of power failure (boxes rely on electricity) or other technical failure, including climate control.
b. Possible delay if staff is attending to other emergencies and cannot hear or attend to the alarm when someone ‘deposits’ the baby—e.g., even if a box is in a conspicuous place, if hospital staff are dealing with multiple trauma injuries, they might not see the deposit (again no alarms are required in hospitals); in the case of a fire station, if the staff are responding to a fire and other alarms/sirens are going off, etc.
c. Inability of health personnel to determine if the parent (or infant) may need medical
care immediately since they are not present. A parent’s need for care has occurred in the case of relinquishments in Illinois under our existing law.
d. Danger of non-staff intervention: Someone in the visual area of the box (who is not health personnel) could see a birth parent deposit an infant and leave, and that person may take the baby out (or harm it) before staff can get to the box.
3. HB 3753 creates confusion as to how to privately relinquish an infant and may lead to infants being unsafely abandoned. Not all facilities will be able to afford a box. The cost of baby boxes is high—at least between $15,000-17,000 not including maintenance – and under HB 3753, installing a baby box would not be mandatory. Thus, it is likely that many safe haven relinquishment locations will opt not to purchase them (as was the case when only a proportionately small number were purchased in Indiana). Yet there is usually a lot of publicity surrounding these laws (as there was in Indiana when the law passed there). This creates confusion/inconsistency for birth parents not knowing which facilities have them and which don’t — do they drive/walk around looking? Where do they drop the baby if they thought there would be a box and there isn’t one? In addition, the bill creates the potential of:
a. Inability of health personnel to determine immediately if an infant deposited is less than 30 days old: A parent could try to relinquish an older child in a small box built for newborns.
b. Lack of privacy: in this time of ubiquitous cell phones, a parent depositing a baby in the box risks a stranger videotaping or photographing the deposit and posting the video/photos online.
c. Improper use of baby boxes for other deposits: in Indiana, a baby box was used to deposit a litter of kittens. Also, national organizations have expressed concerns about safe haven facilities being ‘soft targets’, susceptible to boxes being used for explosives, etc.
HB 3753 is an unnecessary expense given the effectiveness of Illinois’existing Safe Haven Law under which over 125 infants have been safely relinquished. Further, it contravenes fundamental Illinois public policy requiring that birth parents be informed of their rights; poses numerous safety risks to both parent and infants; causes confusion; and jeopardizes the privacy of birth parents.
Source: A Safe Haven for Newborns