Wichita teen a spokesperson for amended baby safe haven law

07/05/2014 4:07 PM

07/05/2014 4:07 PM

New parents can now anonymously surrender an infant child to a hospital, sheriff’s office, fire or police station employee following a recent change in Kansas legislation.

Baby Safe Haven New England, an organization out of Massachusetts, kicked off its “Friend to Friend” campaign July 1 to educate parents across the country that they do not have to resort to abandonment, with Kansas being the first state in the national campaign. The Kansas law – which also went into effect July 1 – creates a “safe haven” for newborns of panicked parents.

Regan Self, who will be a junior at Wichita Heights High School this fall, is representing Baby Safe Haven in Kansas. The organization chooses young spokespeople, usually singers or actors, for the campaign because they do well on radio stations, Baby Safe Haven founders said.

“It can save the woman’s life,” Self, 16, said, “and it can save the baby’s life.”

The campaign and change in legislation was prompted by an incident at a Wichita hospital earlier this year that caught national attention.

In late January, a woman left the hospital against medical advice, leaving her newborn baby in the intensive care unit. Police put out a search for the woman because they said she might need medical care. Officers released a photo of the woman, which was posted on news sites, asking the public for help in the search.

When Mike Morrisey heard the story, he was immediately concerned.

Morrisey, a Baby Safe Haven New England founder, said he feared the story would go viral and Wichita area mothers – and fathers – would resort to abandonment in fear of not being anonymous.

“It didn’t quite go to that level” of exposure, Morrisey said, “and we’re really happy.”

At the time, the Newborn Infant Protection Act in Kansas did not include a statute that included anonymity, said Jan Pauls, a Kansas representative from Hutchinson.

“We looked at it and realized it wasn’t written that way,” Pauls said. “There was just that presumption of confidentiality. … The hospital and the police acted in good faith.”

Morrisey contacted Kansas legislators, including Pauls. By early February, Pauls presented an amendment to the Kansas law, which passed unanimously.

The law now states that a parent “shall not be required to reveal personally identifiable information … or other personally identifiable information” unless there is suspicion of child abuse. Law enforcement will take custody of the surrendered infant, 45 days old or younger, as an abandoned child, House Bill No. 2577 said.

To spread the word about the new law and to prevent newborn abandonment, Baby Safe Haven recruited 14 young spokespeople to talk on radio and news stations in order to better inform young people.

“We have that tragedy,” Pauls said, “where a child has been thrown in a waste can or left in an alley because somebody panicked.”

Young women are more likely to resort to abandonment as they attempt to hide their pregnancy, Morrisey said, so having a young person deliver the message is more effective than an older spokesperson.

“This could be anybody,” said Self, who sings and plays softball. “This could be one of your best friends, one of your family members. This could be you. … There is a way out.”

The controversy from January was a blessing in some ways, Pauls said, because it corrected the loophole in Kansas’ Newborn Infant Protection Act.

“You not only lose a life of a child,” she said, “but you pretty well lose the life of the parents because they’re going to be feeling guilty about it for the rest of their life.

“They don’t have to be in despair and hide out. We’ll protect their confidentially and the child as well.”

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