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U.S. News Archive
August 29 - August 31, 2001



This page contains news for the period August 29, 2001 through August 31, 2001.  

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Friday, August 31, 2001

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 decreasing."

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 laws.

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 Security reform

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 Security's return.

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

Massachusetts Court to determine whether genetic mom can replace birth mom

A story published today by the Boston Globe reports that Massachusett's  Supreme Judicial Court next week will for the first time look at whether a genetic mother can replace a birth mother on a baby's birth certificate. Everyone involved in the case - the genetic parents, Marla and Steven Culliton, the birth mother, and the two hospitals that cared for her - all agree that the Cullitons should be listed on the birth certificate.

But a probate judge, parting from the recent decisions of many of his colleagues, refused to issue that order, ruling on July 12 that state law didn't allow it. The only applicable law, adoption law, says that birth mothers cannot legally give up their children until four days after the birth, he wrote.

"The genetic parents in this case are essentially asking this court to ignore the presumption that the birth mother is the 'mother' and to find that the birth mother has no rights whatsoever to the child," Essex Probate and Family Court Judge John C. Cronin wrote. "Troubling to this court is that they seek these determinations prior to the birth of the child."

In their legal briefs, the Cullitons argue that not only does Cronin's ruling deny them the right to be the parents of their children, but it forces the gestational carrier, Melissa Carroll, to take on an unwanted role as the children's mother.

The Cullitons, who live north of Boston, and Carroll signed an agreement that she would have no legal rights to the children. 

In Massachusetts, the SJC ruling may determine whether the Cullitons will have to adopt their genetic children from the woman who gave birth to them. The decision may also affect gay couples who have sometimes successfully petitioned courts to allow two same-sex parents to be listed, from birth, on the birth certificates.

The twins arrived nearly two months early on July 23. Known in court records as Baby A and Baby B, they still have no birth certificates. They cannot get Social Security cards, which means their parents cannot claim them as tax deductions.

The Cullitons turned to a gestational carrier - a woman who carries the baby in her womb but has no genetic link to it - because Marla Culliton was medically unable to carry a child to term, according to court records. But they didn't foresee the legal complications, said lawyer Melissa Brisman, who represents the Cullitons. 

Officials at the state Department of Public Health have said they will submit written arguments to the court, but yesterday wouldn't say what they will argue.

Although there are no statistics, judges in similar cases have often issued orders before the births allowing the genetic parents to be listed on the birth certificates. Brisman said she's seen a dozen such orders in Massachusetts; other family lawyers agree the orders are not uncommon.

These orders, obtained before birth, save the intended parents the expense and emotional difficulties of later adopting the children.

Cronin also noted in his decision that other states' higher courts have ruled differently on the issue. While a 1993 California court upheld a similar pre-birth order, a court in New Jersey rejected one last year.

Specialists agree that the law is unclear on these tangled issues of motherhood. "At stake is how courts should react in the absence of definitive legislation and whether courts want to faciliate these kinds of arrangements," said Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor at Harvard Law School.

Since no one has opposed the Cullitons' legal case, the SJC next Thursday will only hear one side argued - a circumstance that concerns Bartholet. "You get courts making a decision in a context where they're not getting a wide range of viewpoints," she said.


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