The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 13, 2000 Issue
Local News

Safe place for newborns: Saving babies' lives

Program provides care for babies without prosecution for abandonment or neglect


Julianne Nornberg
Madison Catholic Herald

MADISON - You've probably heard stories or know someone who experienced newborn abandonment.

Usually, it involves a frightened mother who denied or hid her pregnancy because she didn't want to believe it herself.

Perhaps she was unmarried or did not know how she would take care of a baby financially. She was scared. Then, the baby was born. What could she do? She thought if someone found the baby on the sidewalk, they would care for it. Or maybe she could hide it, and no one would ever know.

In response, Safe Place for Newborns - the first program of its kind in Wisconsin - has started in Dane County to save babies' lives.

Under the program, which began in July, a woman can bring her unharmed baby (up to three days old) to any Dane County hospital personnel and ask to leave the baby in a "Safe Place for Newborns" without fear of prosecution for abandonment or neglect. The only requirement is to fill out a form about the child's background.

The baby is cared for at the hospital and social services are notified.

"I'm proud to be in a community that is doing something proactive to save the lives of infants," said Helen Healy, president of the Dane County chapter of Safe Place for Newborns, a national organization based in Minneapolis.

Healy and her husband, Tim, vice president of the program, have three children and a fourth on the way. They are members of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Madison.

Community effort

The program is a community effort involving Dane County District Attorney G. Brian Brophy, the Department of Human Services, and the county's four hospitals, Healy said.

Grant and Nancy Emmel of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and David and Linda Slakne of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, all of Madison, also were instrumental in organizing the program.

Healy said the people involved, including the mayor and other Dane County officials, have been very supportive.

"Together we've created a solution for a problem," she said.

Reps. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee) and Suzanne Jeskewitz (R-Menomonee Falls) have been working on a proposal independent of Safe Place for Newborns and a task force is drafting legislation, that could be introduced early next year, to make Safe Place for Newborns a statewide program, Healy said. She said 13 states have passed similar laws and 12 have legislation pending.

"We have an educational and media campaign that will begin in November and will focus on college and high school students," Healy said. "We're targeting young people between 14 and 24."

Safe Place for Newborns "will save lives and it reaffirms the sacredness of life," said Susan Armacost of Wisconsin Right to Life.

Healy said tax deductible contributions may be made to: Safe Place for Newborns, P.O. Box 628, Middleton WI 53562. Safe Place for Newborns also has a crisis hotline at 1-877-440-BABY. The website is www.safeplacefornewborns.org.



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