I happened to catch an episode of CBC’s Out in the Open over the weekend. It was all about unintended consequences and people’s reactions to them. There were some rather interesting stories, but one in particular very much caught my ear.
They spent about 15 minutes on the State of Nebraska’s attempt at a safe haven law. Perhaps you remember that. If you were reading us back in 2008, there’s a good chance you do. They spoke with one of the senators involved in crafting it, people who had to deal with the influx of arrivals it created and even the woman who ended up taking in the nine kids that that one guy dropped off.
It was a law originally meant to stop infanticide. But in 2008, it was used to drop off a total of 35 older children.
Nebraska had just passed its version of a Safe Haven Law, meant to decriminalize infant abandonment. The law makes it so parents who can’t care for a baby, don’t do anything desperate. With a Safe Haven Law, parents can legally and anonymously give up their baby.
All states in the U.S. have a version of a Safe Haven Law now, but Nebraska’s was different: there was no age restriction. All other states capped the age at a few days to 30 days old.
“I think there’s a misperception that we just inadvertently left an age cap out. But the reality was we wanted to save lives of older kids who might be at risk,” said Amanda McGill Johnson, a Nebraska state senator at the time.
“We’d seen nationally a mother who drowned her kids in a bathtub because she was depressed. And, so, in our minds, why should only infant life be protected?”
On the surface, that seems absolutely sensible, maybe even somewhat noble. But even after listening to every word she said and now reading some of it again as I put this post together, I still can’t quite grasp how they thought that anything other than what happened was going to happen. Governing is hard, that much I know. The boring reading, the meetings, the balancing of competing interests and perspectives…it’s a job I’m not sure I’d want, honestly. And I’m certain that the sheer amount of work involved means that things are going to fall through the cracks. But even armed with that understanding, this still feels to me like a pretty big thing plummeting down one damn huge crack.
Unfortunately the segment doesn’t seem to be embeddable, so you’ll have to go here to check it out. How a law meant to curb infanticide was used to abandon teens