Illinois Safe Haven advocates ‘starting to panic’ about Supreme Court eyeing abortion rights
Illinois’ Safe Haven laws have been in place for over 20 years, but advocates say some people still don’t know they exist — which endangers the lives of abandoned infants.
In 1995, Morgan Hill was just an infant when she was left abandoned inside a dumpster behind a Hoffman Estates’ Hospital.
Hill, who would become known as Baby Mary Grace, was tossed there by her biological mother, who had just given birth to her hours earlier. She was found wrapped in a bath towel, put into a plastic bag that was double knotted and placed inside a trash bin. The worker that found her was disposing of the last bit of debris from a nearby construction site at the hospital.
“He found the bag, went running to the hospital, three nurses came out, opened [the bag] and found me,” Hill said at a news conference Wednesday. “The only damage done to me was a dent on my forehead from a metal rod that was resting on me but other than that I’ve been told I was nothing more than a perfect little baby.”
Dawn Geras, executive chairperson for Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, said Illinois passed its Safe Haven law in 2001, which generally allows parents to give up infants without criminal prosecution. She warns if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, it could cause devastating setbacks.
“The foundation takes no position [on Roe v. Wade], we believe that the child we’re dealing with has already been born,” Geras said. “However, this new ruling that seems to be coming out may increase the number of women that don’t know what to do and feel they have no alternative. All the more reason we’re starting to panic.”
Geras said despite Illinois’ Safe Haven laws being in place for over 20 years, many people don’t know that a new parent unable or unwilling to care for an infant can take the newborn, up to 30 days old, to a hospital, firehouse or police station. They won’t need to answer any questions and won’t face any legal repercussions.
Since the law passed, Geras said, 149 infants have been safely relinquished, but there were still 90 infants who were illegally abandoned — with half of those babies found dead.
At the news conference, Peggi D’Angelo, a representative with the grassroots organization 100 Women Who Care, donated over $10,000 to the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation in order to help spread awareness of the law.
Geras said that money will largely go to putting up signs at bus shelters promoting the Safe Haven laws. The signs will have a QR code that will provide people with additional details.
“I don’t think [Safe Haven laws] are widely publicized or known,” Geras said. “If women don’t know about the law, how are we to expect that they use it?”
Glen Brooks, director of community policing for the Chicago Police Department, said they have worked closely with Save Abandoned Babies Foundation on the issue of safely relinquishing a newborn.
“As we know [being] a new mother can be overwhelming, and sometimes it is a situation where there seems to be no way through,” Brooks said. “One of the things that Dawn has done is champion a cause which give new mother an option, and we are very proud as a Police Department to have walked this journey with her.”
More importantly, Brooks said, if a new parent feels they are “out of options” they can hand the child over to an officer in any of their 22 districts citywide 24 hours a day “with no questions asked.”
“There is help out there and you can go to any one of our police stations, any one of the fire stations, knock on the door, hand the child over and there are no questions asked,” Brooks said.
Brooks said it is up to them to be vigilant in pushing the message out to the public that there are safe alternatives to relinquishing an infant.
For Hill, finding out she was found in a dumpster as an infant was the catalyst for her to help urge new parents to give up newborns in a safe environment instead of abandoning them in a dangerous location.
She is now the spokeswoman for the foundation and the National Safe Haven Alliance.
“My biggest mission was to find some way to prevent what happened to me from happening to other children,” Hill said. “I will do anything possible to prevent what happened to me.”