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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 3:37 p.m., Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lawmakers considering 'safe haven' for newborns

Associated Press

HONOLULU — In an effort to save unwanted newborns from abuse or death, Hawai'i lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow babies to be dropped off with police, fire or hospital workers and put up for adoption.

The measure would make Hawai'i one of the last states to enact a so-called "safe-haven law," but Gov. Linda Lingle may veto the bill if it gets to her desk.

Forty-seven states already have safe-haven laws, and Hawai'i lawmakers are expected to fashion a final version of the bill that has passed both houses as it goes before a conference committee this week.

"If we can save one life, it will make me feel like I've done my job," said Rep. John Mizuno, D-30th (Kamehameha Heights, Kalihi Valley, Fort Shafter), the bill's sponsor. "How many babies may have perished because we didn't act?"

The worry is that teenage mothers may drop their babies in trash containers or abandon them in extreme circumstances, Mizuno said. This proposal would give them a way to save the lives of their children without fear of prosecution, as long as the child is unharmed.

But opponents of the bill question whether it may do more harm than good.

"This bill may have an unintended consequence of encouraging parental irresponsibility," wrote Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, in written testimony. "Enactment of this bill may encourage those mothers to abandon their children rather than seeking help from the birth fathers, their families and other supportive resources."

Texas was the first state to enact a safe haven law in 1999, and every state in the country has now passed similar legislation except for Hawai'i, Alaska and Nebraska.

Jane Greenwood, a Honolulu paramedic, said the law would help girls who don't know where else to turn. For example, Greenwood has helped deliver babies of a 12-year-old who was raped and a mentally ill mother who didn't feed or keep her child warm after delivery.

"They need to have an option for desperate, alone girls who don't have access to medical care, a home or a lawyer to put the child up for adoption," said Greenwood, who has delivered 10 babies in her 15 years as a paramedic.

But Rep. Corrine Ching, R-27th (Nu'uanu, Liliha, 'Alewa Heights), argues that the proposal would only help teenagers avoid the consequences of an unintended pregnancy. Also, a baby drop-off would make it difficult for abandoned children to ever find their birth parents.

"Children of people who would have gone to mom or dad instead will use this to avoid the repercussions of having a child," Ching said. "Once it's done, there's no way to find the baby again."

The Hawai'i Legislature passed a similar bill in 2003, but Lingle vetoed it because there was no requirement for family medical conditions or genealogy to be provided. She also said at the time that the bill could undermine the Hawaiian cultural practice of open adoption known as "hanai."

Lawmakers could attempt an override of the veto in a special session if the bill got to that point, Mizuno said.