Pass the word, Illinois’ Safe Haven Law works

Written By By SUE ONTIVEROS Posted: 03/17/2014, 04:52am

Feb. 6 was a day when ice hung off gutters and a trace of falling snow joined what already was piled high. Temperatures dipped as low as 0 and never got above 14, according to weather reports.

Why am I telling you this? Because on that cold winter day, a young woman gave up the baby she could not keep the right way.

According to the short story tucked into a corner of the Sun-Times, the young woman went to a Northwest Side fire station at about dinnertime and handed over the baby she herself had delivered that same morning.

She didn’t — as too many desperate women before her have done — bundle the baby up and leave it outside somewhere, hoping someone would find the newborn. Or worse, she didn’t discard it like yesterday’s trash.

Things went well for No. 89.

“It’s working!” was my first thought as I read that story. And I wanted to get Dawn Geras’ take on what happened.

Geras is the founder and president of the Chicago-based Save Abandoned Babies Foundation ( In 2001, that group’s grass-roots effort led to the 2001 passage of Illinois’ Safe Haven Law, which stipulates that females can give up their babies within 30 days of birth to hospitals, police and fire departments, no questions asked.

It was through Geras that I learned the Feb. 6 infant was the 89th given up in Illinois under the Safe Haven Law. That’s a good sign, I thought, and Geras agreed, but she also mentioned that in that same time period, 70 newborns were not as lucky as No. 89; of those 70 infants, 36 ended up dead.

“I’m thankful that this young woman had the knowledge and courage to do the safe, loving and responsible thing for her baby,” Geras said in a telephone interview.

Actually, we don’t usually hear about the success of the Safe Haven Law — “the law does promise anonymity,” Geras said — and if the story weren’t already publicized Geras would have remained mum.

There are Safe Haven signs placed prominently at hospitals, police and fire departments, and Geras’ foundation does provide free posters and brochures about the law to anyone who asks. But it doesn’t hurt to remind others the law exists.

From what is known about the 89 women — and some of the 70 who did not follow the law — not all the mothers are young. Among girls 13 to 17 years old and women 31 to 41, the same percentage — 16.82 — have given up their newborns, legally or illegally, Geras says. Some 47 percent are white, while 29 percent are black and 16 percent Latino.

While Geras has had the sobering experience of hearing from women while in the delivery room (asking how the law works), she also has had the “privilege” of seeing Safe Haven babies with their adoptive parents.

“It’s a miracle for them,” she said, speaking of the adults.

I’m glad No. 89 is safe, but I can’t help but wonder about the young woman who felt compelled to give up her newborn. The news story described her as distraught. I hope she saw a doctor. I hope she knows she did a selfless and courageous thing.

I hope she realizes that I am writing about No. 89 to get the word out, wanting to save another life.


Twitter: @SueOntiveros

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