An hours-old baby girl was found wrapped in a plastic bag on a quiet street in Indiana — the latest in a series of abandoned babies found nationwide. The newborn, found by a woman walking her dog in Seymour on Tuesday, WRTV reported, comes not long after a baby with her umbilical cord attached was found on a porch in Pennsylvania. And in June, another infant was found swaddled in a plastic bag in Georgia.
The incidents highlight the importance of safe haven laws that allow parents or guardians to leave newborns in designated safe locations without the fear of prosecution.
Here are five things to know about the laws:
All states have laws protecting newborns
All 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have some sort of safe haven legislation to protect newborns and provide parents with an alternative to criminal abandonment, according to government agency Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Safe haven laws differ in various states
There’s no umbrella federal law over all the states so the safe haven specifics vary depending on where you live.
“For example, in approximately 11 states and Puerto Rico, only infants who are 72 hours old or younger may be relinquished to a designated safe haven. Approximately 19 states accept infants up to 1 month old. Other states specify varying age limits in their statutes,” the government agency says.
Some states such as Alabama and Arizona require the infants to be three days or younger while others such as Indiana and Arkansas allow babies up to 30 days old, it says.
Not everyone can drop off a baby
The person allowed to relinquish a baby varies by state.
In four states — Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota and Tennessee — only the mother is allowed to surrender her infant, according to the government agency.
Some states provide other options.
“Idaho specifies that only a custodial parent may surrender an infant. In the District of Columbia, an infant may be relinquished only by a custodial parent who is a resident of the District. In approximately 11 states, an agent of the parent (someone who has the parent’s approval) may take a baby to a safe haven for a parent,” the government agency says.
In California, Kansas and New York, if someone other than the parent is relinquishing a newborn, he or she must have legal custody.
What’s considered a safe location varies by state
Safe locations to leave a newborn are not the same for every state, either. In each state, a hospital is considered a safe location while some allow newborns to be left at a fire station or a police station.
At least 16 states and Puerto Rico mandate that babies be left only at a hospital, emergency medical services provider or healthcare facility. In 27 states, fire stations are also designated as safe havens. While in 25 states, police stations or other law enforcement agencies may accept infants. Arizona, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont and Puerto Rico allow churches to act as safe havens, but someone has to be present at the time the infant is left.
Some safe havens require family history
Once a baby is relinquished, the safe haven is required to provide any immediate medical care required. In 10 states, the baby must be transferred to the hospital if received at a facility that does not provide medical care, the government agency says.
And in at least 21 states, the provider is required to ask the parent for family and medical history information. Some are required to try and talk to whoever dropped off the child about the legal repercussions.
“Safe haven providers are given protection from liability for anything that might happen to the infant while in their care, unless there is evidence of major negligence on the part of the provider,” the government agency says.