Safe haven laws for abandoned
babies rarely used
A story published today in the New York times reports that while 35 states, including
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, have adopted safe haven laws in the last two
years, there is little evidence that they are having the desired effect.
Of the first 16 states that passed the laws, only six reported safe haven babies in a
survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures. And babies continue to be
abandoned illegally in states with the laws more frequently, in some cases, than in
states without them.
"The bottom line is, we know so little about the whole issue," said Nina
Williams-Mbengue, the policy specialist who is tracking infant abandonment for the
organization of state legislatures. "We don't even know if it's increasing or
The emergence of the laws was a significant change in policy. "A practice we
generally regard as primitive dropping your children by the wayside has
suddenly become favored and promoted," said Joan Hollinger, a professor of family law
at the University of California at Berkeley.
In large measure, the laws were reactions to a number of attention-getting cases. On
Sept. 1, 1999, Texas enacted the nation's first safe haven law, spurred by the discovery
in Houston of 13 abandoned babies in 10 months. Other states quickly followed with similar
Politicians and advocates found the spirit of the legislation easy to embrace.
Conservatives liked the fact that the laws promised to save babies without spending money;
liberals liked the idea that they were not punitive.
But the speed of the laws' acceptance left little time for a thorough discussion of
whether they work, or even the dimensions of the problem they were intended to address.
States are still not collecting information on how many infants are abandoned said
Ms. Williams-Mbengue. "For the babies who come into the hospital, we have no way to
know whether the mother would have tried to go through an adoption agency to legally
relinquish the baby, or if this is a person who would have left a baby by the
roadside." she added.
The laws' champions contend that a lack of public awareness is the main obstacle to
making them work. They argue that the increase in children left at safe havens in Texas
four infants were turned over last year likely was a response to a $200,000
media campaign. So states are stepping up publicity, like the decals at Florida firehouses
proclaiming "A Safe Baby Station: Leave a Baby in Safety."
But experts on infant abandonment say the problem goes deeper. They say it is
unrealistic to expect the young women most traumatized by a secret delivery, and typically
more fearful of a parent's reaction than a prosecutor's, to seek a safe haven. They say
the women most likely to respond to publicity campaigns are unlikely to endanger their
infants to begin with.
"Whether the people who actually use safe havens are the group it's targeted at,
is in doubt," said John Krall, chief analyst for the National Abandoned Infants
Resource Center at the University of California at Berkeley.
Critics of safe haven laws argue that publicity may divert women from these safer
options to a legal abandonment that minimizes the responsibilities and rights of fathers
and leaves children without a family history. But proponents argue that safe
haven laws may be an infant's last safety net.
Thursday, August 30, 2001
Taking baby steps in Social
A newspaper article written by John Palffy, a former fellow for tax and budget studies
with the Heritage foundation, talks about the current Social Security reform being
introduce in Congress. The full text of his article which was published today in the Los
Angeles Times appears below:
The recent stock market plunge has been seized on by opponents of Social Security
reform as evidence that President Bush's plan for using private IRA--type accounts is too
risky, despite consistent evidence that the market over time greatly outperforms Social
But there's still a compelling economic case for private investment accounts, even
without a penny of these funds being invested in the stock market. Simply allow taxpayers
to divert 2% of their Social Security taxes to a privately held fund with two caveats: All
funds must be invested in Treasury securities, and future benefits will be reduced
proportionally to the initial funds diverted.
Because this proposal restricts investment to federally insured securities, it
eliminates the risk of financial loss so feared by critics. Not only will retiree benefits
be more secure than the current program-- there is no safer security in the world then
U.S. savings bonds--they also will earn a higher rate of return. In fact, if
"security" is really the goal of reform opponents, then this proposal actually
is less risky than the current program. The U.S. Supreme Court long ago determined that
Social Security payments exist at the whim of legislative fiat. Congress may increase or
lower benefits or even cancel benefits at any time, and taxpayers have no legal recourse.
Given previous congressional propensity to tinker with benefits and the
multitrillion--dollar unfunded liability of the program, it is no wonder that polls
consistently show that millions of young Americans fear the benefits will not be there for
them. Wouldn't workers feel more secure with a private stash of Treasury securities?
To the extent that Social Security taxes are diverted to private accounts, the
"apparent" federal deficit will be increased, but the effect is illusory. From
an accounting perspective, the increase in the deficit is directly offset by a reduction
in long-term Social Security obligations. From a cash flow or actual borrowing
perspective, there is also no substantial effect. Currently, Social Security surpluses are
invested in Treasury securities. This plan will eliminate much of this surplus, but since
the same money would have to be invested by individuals in Treasury securities, there
would be no increase in government bonds or interest rates as a result.
Privatization would restore some integrity and security to Social Security. To the
extent that individuals hold private Treasury portfolios instead of relying on unfunded
government promises, they are more secure and earn a higher return. The system itself is
improved because long-term obligations are reduced. Perhaps most important, we can begin
to break the arbitrary "pay-as-you-go" nature of a program dependent on the
shrinking and capricious relationship between working taxpayers and earning beneficiaries.
The key is to get payroll tax dollars into the accounts of workers and out of the hands
of politicians in Washington, because letting politicians control your money is the
greatest financial risk of all.
Wednesday, August 29, 2001