Nebraska needs a safe haven law

Friday, September 7, 2007

Nebraska is special in many ways, with its Unicameral govenment, publicly owned power system and many other unique attributes to make its citizens proud.

One trait, however, is nothing of which to be proud.

Nebraska and Alaska are the only states which still have no provision for newborns to be left at hospitals, fire departments and other appropriate places without fear of prosecution.

The issue came to light over Labor Day when an 18-year-old left her newborn in a bathroom at Omaha's Bergan Mercy Hospital.

She said she had given birth at home, and was on her way to the maternity ward when she had second thoughts, and left the child in the restroom.

In a way, Nebraska's proposed safe haven law, although it's languishing on general file, already worked. The young woman thought her actions were legal, because she had heard some of the legislative debate.

Wisely, the Douglas County Attorney declined to file charges against the unfortunate woman.

We've all heard horrifying stories of newborn babies abandoned in dumpsters and elsewhere, and wish something could be done.

Admittedly, a safe haven law can have only limited effect. Often, the mothers have so many problems of their own that compliance with state law is far down their list of priorities.

And, there is little practical reason for requiring hospitals, fire departments and others to take custody of abandoned infants -- most emergency and medical personnel need no legal prompting to see that an abandoned baby receives the care it needs.

But the Legislature should do everything it can to ensure that our state's youngest, most vulnerable citizens receive the care they need.

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