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Diane Dimond: Publicizing Safe Havens Would Save Lives of Newborns, Teen Parents

All corporations catering to young people should step up to help spread the word

It has happened again, and it breaks my heart.

A young mother in Hendersonville, N.C., walked into a grocery store recently clutching her boyfriend’s hand on her right and a big, heavy-looking shoulder bag on her left — a bag held low so that it nearly scraped the ground as she walked.

The teenager headed straight for the store’s ladies’ room and stepped inside. When she reappeared on the grocery’s surveillance video exactly four minutes later, she had exchanged her red sundress for a pair of slacks and a blouse. Her bag was casually slung over her shoulder, looking a whole lot less heavy.

Within hours, a store employee cleaning the restroom found a dead newborn baby in one of the stall’s trash cans. The 9-1-1 call to police was painful to listen to, as another worker gasped between sobs and begged for help for the dead baby.

Whoever abandoned the little girl had just committed a felony.

An innocent life lost, and the additional tragedy was that within a mile and a half of that store were three safe haven locations where a mother in peril could turn to for help with her baby — no questions asked.

Police in Hendersonville report they located the teen mother. Presumably because she is underage, specifics on the case have been sparse. It has been reported that the baby might have already been dead when placed in that trash can. But the law is not always sympathetic, and criminal charges could still be filed. The autopsy report will be the most important piece of evidence.

As tragic as this case sounds, it is not an isolated one. I remember other incredibly similar stories that ended with jail time for the young parents involved:

» Melissa Drexler, the so-called “Prom Mom,” in Forked River, N.J., who gave birth in the public bathroom, put the newborn in the trash and returned to the dance as if nothing had happened.

» Amy Grossberg and her boyfriend, Brian Peterson, who rented a hotel room in Newark, Del., for the birth of their unnamed baby boy then put him in a nearby Dumpster. They claimed a stillbirth, but the autopsy showed the infant died from shaken baby syndrome.

» And in February of this year, Jessica Blackham went to the circus in Greenville, N.C., and delivered a baby boy in the arena restroom. Miraculously, the baby was found an hour later and survived. Blackham, the mother of a 5-year-old who says she has no memory of her last birth, faces charges of felony child abuse.

So many young people don’t know about the safe haven laws, and yet they are in effect in all 50 states. Generally speaking, they allow a parent to turn over an infant younger than 30 days old to a hospital, firehouse, police station or rescue squad with absolutely no recriminations or questions — just a guarantee that the baby will be well cared for and placed for adoption by loving parents.

The perfect location to hang posters highlighting safe havens for teen moms would be in girls’ restrooms at junior high and high schools — but we all know that the bureaucracy attached to that makes it unlikely to happen.

A pen pal of mine, Stacy Sussman, who works in a law office in Los Angeles, has a great real-world suggestion for those who care enough to help educate young people. She wrote, “I was thinking places like 7-Eleven and Taco Bell — places such as those where students hang out before, during and after school.”

I hereby toss out that challenge to every corporation that caters to teenagers. How about posters in the dressing rooms of the Gap, Sears, JC Penney, Old Navy and Target? How about information about the closest neighborhood safe haven locations in the restrooms of every Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut or Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt?

My smart friend, Stacy, also suggests school newspaper editors agitate to post information about safe haven locations somewhere in the school newspaper, even if it’s just a reprint of the local safe haven law. Stacy also suggests the phrase “No Questions Asked” be printed in very big letters next to a picture of a smiling firefighter holding a baby with the caption, “You’ll be OK.”

I can’t think of a more worthwhile and simple program to help save the lives of both newborn babies and their teenage parents. And think of all the adoptive parents waiting eagerly for a baby who could finally realize their dream of having a family.

The problem of teenagers getting pregnant isn’t going to go away, and neither are the laws that mandate criminal charges be filed against anyone who puts a newborn in danger or fails to get help for an infant. We have to get over the idea that its taboo to speak directly to teenagers — both girls and boys — about what to do when a baby is on the way.

Teen moms will continue to try to hide their pregnancies from parents they can’t communicate with in the shortsighted hope that everything will be OK. We grown-ups know, of course, that never works.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Click here for more information. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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