SANTA FE: The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) is encouraging all New Mexicans to familiarize themselves with the protections offered for infants and parents, through its Safe Haven for Infants Law. The legislation allows a parent to leave an infant, ninety days of age or less, at a safe haven site without prosecution. Designated safe haven sites include hospitals, law enforcement agencies, or fire stations that have staff on site at the time an infant is left.
The Safe Haven for Infants Act is intended to shield parents from criminal prosecution when they choose to leave infants at safe havens, as long as the child has not been subject to child abuse or neglect prior to relinquishment.
According to DOH Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase, “This rarely used but critical law saves lives. Increasing awareness about what can be done safely and without prosecution, offers a desperately needed alternative for parents who are unable to care for their infants, including giving them up for adoption.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the highest risk for infant homicide is on the day of birth. As a result, all 50 states and Puerto Rico have enacted Safe Haven Laws to address infant abandonment and endangerment. The infant homicide rate on the day of birth decreased from 222.2 per 100,000 person-years during 1989–1998 to 74.0 during 2008–2017 (66.7% decline) but remains at least 5.4 times higher than the rate at any other time in life.
Nationally, Safe Haven Laws, which are sometimes known as “Baby Moses Laws”, decriminalize the leaving of unharmed infants with statutorily designated entities, so that the child becomes a ward of the state. Texas was the first state to enact a “Baby Moses Law” in 1999, in reaction to 13 incidents of child abandonment in the year, three of them involving infants discovered dead.
According to the National Safe Haven Alliance, 4422 babies have been “saved to date” in the US. The site also states that 1567 were illegally abandoned from 1999 through 2020, and that in 2020, 120 babies were saved, while 37 were illegally abandoned. For more information by state, please review the childwelfare.gov website.
NMDOH – Katy Diffendorfer, Health Equity Communications Manager | Katy.Diffendorfer@state.nm.us
The Department of Health works to promote health and wellness, improve health outcomes, and deliver services to all New Mexicans. As New Mexico’s largest state agency, DOH offers public health services in all 33 counties and collaborates with 23 Native American tribes, Pueblos and nations.