By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
April 22, 2021
In July of last year, a woman walking her dog near Christ Community Church on Fairview Drive in Wilmington heard what sounded like an infant crying. The sound was coming from a trashcan. When she looked into the trash, she found a baby in a sealed, black trash bag. The baby boy was still bloody from birth, and the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck.
“Anytime this kind of tragic scenario happens,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, “it’s painful to learn about it. Because the mother involved probably didn’t know about North Carolina’s Safe Surrender Law.”
Fortunately, the life of the baby in Wilmington was saved. But the mother was tracked down, arrested, and charged with murder. “If the mother had employed the Safe Surrender Law, the baby’s life would have never been in jeopardy, and the mother wouldn’t have been charged with a crime,” said Rev. Creech.
The Infant Safe Surrender Law in North Carolina, which passed in 2001, is designed to provide a safe alternative for a desperate parent to surrender their newborn without fear of facing charges. Today there are safe surrender laws or safe haven laws in every state. North Carolina’s safe surrender law came in the wake of an abandoned baby left for dead in a dumpster in 2000 in a Macon County landfill.
In 2001, Rev. Creech played a significant role in getting the Infant Safe Surrender Law passed in the Tar Heel state. The law was initially recommended and advanced by the NC Child Fatality Task Force. Creech lobbied alongside the Child Fatality Task Force to help Sen. Bob Carpenter (R-Franklin) and Rep. Philip Haire (D-Macon) get the measure passed.
Haire, who retired in 2012, said in an interview with the Christian Action League that same year that he thought the bill was one of his finest achievements, and Rev. Creech’s assistance was “invaluable.”
On Tuesday, the Committee on Families, Children, and Aging Policy took up HB 473 – Revise Laws/Safe Surrender/Infants, which is legislation meant to strengthen the state’s two decades old Safe Surrender law.
The Child Fatality Task Force says they’ve received input from experts in juvenile law in recent years, examined the current Safe Surrender statute, and recommended specific changes to strengthen it.
The original concept behind North Carolina’s Safe Surrender law was that it be as broad as possible, allowing for “any adult” to be a proper recipient of a surrendered infant. Today, however, there are grave concerns about human trafficking and unlawful custody transfer when “any adult” can claim a surrendered infant. Moreover, this kind of category is not typical of other states.
HB 473 is specific, designating health care providers on duty at a hospital, health department, or non-profit community health center, first responders, which include fireman, law enforcement officers, and certified medical service workers, social services workers on duty at a local department of social services, as persons lawfully allowed to take temporary custody of a surrendered infant.
The Child Fatality Task Force tells the Christian Action League that it was always to someone in one of these categories whenever a parent has used the Safe Surrender law.
HB 473 would also require that, whenever possible critical information be provided to a surrendering parent. The current law doesn’t require the surrendering parent to be given information regarding consequences, rights, and options related to safe surrender. This information would be developed by the Department of Health and Human Services and made available to professionals designated to accept surrendered infants.
Central to HB 473 is a provision that would strengthen protections of a surrendering parent’s identity. To closely guard a parent’s identity is an essential factor in a surrendering parent’s decision to use the law.
“I’ve always believed and advocated this was the most important aspect of getting a parent to use Safe Surrender. No one likes the idea of an abandoned baby, but there are only two choices here, either an abandoned dead baby or a surrendered live baby. A parent isn’t likely to use the law if they think their identity is going to be compromised, and that means the likelihood of a dead child,” said Rev. Creech.
Creech said that he also believes this is pro-life legislation. The primary goal is to prevent newborn homicide. “North Carolina’s Safe Surrender law has saved more than 50 children since its passage,” said Creech. “It would be worth it if it saved only one, but it’s certainly done everything we hoped it would do, and the current initiative, I think, will only make it better.”
According to legislative staff, a safely surrendered infant in HB 473 would be a baby “believed to be under seven days of age and without signs of abuse or neglect which is voluntarily delivered to an individual under the Safe Surrender law by the infant’s parent who does not express intent to return for the infant. The act of surrendering does not constitute neglect.”
Lawmakers passed HB 473 out of the Committee on Families, Children, and Aging Policy and referred it to the Committee on Health.