clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Senate panel agrees adding time to safe haven for babies a good step

Sam Peterson, right, speaks with his grandfather, Larry Peterson, after addressing legislators about Utah’s Newborn Safe Haven law during a House Health and Human Service Committee meeting at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. The 17-year-old became the state’s first baby adopted under the law after he was surrendered anonymously by his birth mother. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, introduced the law nearly 20 years ago and is now proposing changes that would allow parents up to 30 days to relinquish a baby at any Utah hospital, instead of just 72 hours, as the current law is written.
Sam Peterson, right, speaks with his grandfather, Larry Peterson, after addressing legislators about Utah’s Newborn Safe Haven law during a House Health and Human Service Committee meeting at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. The 17-year-old became the state’s first baby adopted under the law after he was surrendered anonymously by his birth mother. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, introduced the law nearly 20 years ago and is now proposing changes that would allow parents up to 30 days to relinquish a baby at any Utah hospital, instead of just 72 hours, as the current law is written.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the last 18 years, Utah’s Newborn Safe Haven law has saved at least 42 babies whose mothers were able to relinquish them anonymously.

“We’ll be able to save even more,” said Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, who is co-sponsoring HB97, which would extend the amount of time that parents can safely give up their baby from 72 hours to up to 30 days after the birth.

“There are times when girls need more time to decide,” Sandall told members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. “They find out when they get home that they are in no position to care for the child and in the position where they don’t know what to do.”

“It seems like we’re probably going to save more babies’ lives, and we’re going to be able to get more babies into adoptive homes where they can be loved and grow,” Sandall continued.

Years ago, Lon Hatch and his wife were able to adopt a baby whose mother was raped and she didn’t want to keep the child as a reminder of her circumstances.

“She was in crisis and didn’t know what to do,” he said, adding that the young woman hid her pregnancy, but somehow knew about Utah’s Safe Haven law and gave her baby to someone who desperately wanted him.

“This gave her an outlet,” Hatch said. “She could have chosen to have an abortion. She could have chosen to abandon him in an unsafe location. She could have made a tragic decision that could have harmed him or ended his life. But she chose to use the law.”

“That law changed our lives forever,” he said. “The Safe Haven law saved the life of our son.”

Hatch said his son is active, smart and engaging; loves to play in the dirt and climbs everything.

“He is wonderful and he is the outcome of this law,” he said, adding that the boy is “not defined by his mother’s tragic circumstance ... it was not his choice.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, said the Safe Haven law is one of the most important pieces of legislation she’s ever worked on in the nearly 20 years as a Utah lawmaker.

“It’s not just for the kids, but the women who can move on with their lives and not live with the guilt,” she said.

HB97 asks for $50,000 to help educate women about the law and its potential changes, should it be adopted by the full body before March 12, the last day of the session.

It has achieved support from the Utah House, and the senate committee on Wednesday also unanimously supported the bill, with a favorable recommendation to the full Senate.

“There are a number of the things we do that affect people, but only a few of them affect life and death,” Sandall said. “This is one of those things, to me, that is really emotional.”

He called the extension a “no-brainer.”

Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated Rep. Patrice Arent covers the cost of the program. She has only paid for outreach, at times.