Christian Action League played significant role in getting the legislation passed in 2001
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
As hard as investigators are working to determine the identity of a baby boy abandoned July 2 in Greensboro, public health officials are seeking to spread the word about North Carolina’s Safe Surrender law.
Under a state statute passed in 2001, a parent may surrender his or her newborn within a week after the baby’s birth to any responsible adult without fear of facing charges. One of some 45 safe surrender or safe haven laws across the nation, North Carolina’s came in the wake of another abandoned baby, one found dead in 2000 in a Macon County landfill.
“Unfortunately, there are times when women get so upset about an unwanted pregnancy that they do the unthinkable. They give birth and then abandon their baby,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “This law has saved a few precious little lives in this state.”
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, 104 infants have been surrendered statewide during the past three years, 26 of them last year.
National statistics show that the risk of homicide on the first day of life is 10 times greater than at any other time.
To help change that fact, the CAL worked closely with the late Sen. Bob Carpenter (R-Franklin) and with Rep. Phillip Haire (D-Macon), who championed the cause more than a decade ago. Haire, a 14-year veteran of the House who is retiring this year, considers the law one of his highest accomplishments. He said the Macon County case prompted him to do some research into a Safe Surrender law that had passed in Alabama. He based his bill on that legislation.
“It was really just a matter of saving lives and also a way to make these children available for adoption since there are so many couples seeking newborns,” Rep. Haire said.
He said some lawmakers were hesitant at first, fearing that knowing a baby could be easily surrendered would lead some women to be more promiscuous or less concerned about birth control, but that ultimately, “it was a little hard for anybody to object to since all it did was decriminalize this action for the first seven days of the baby’s life.”
In an interview with the Christian Action League in 2007, Rep. Haire said, “Rev. Mark Creech and the Christian Action League have, from the day the Safe Surrender Law and this bill were introduced, worked with me to preserve the life of new born babies who might otherwise be abandoned. This support has been invaluable.”
The Rev. Creech said he was privileged to work shoulder-to-shoulder with lawmakers on this issue, one that has always been close to the heart of Christians. “Since the beginning of the faith, back when infanticide was a regular practice in the Roman Empire, Christians were speaking out against it and taking in babies that had been put outside the city walls to die,” he said.
According to the Franklin Press, Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, a juvenile officer at the time of the 2000 case, led a petition drive to help promote the legislation which initially included funding for advertising the law, funding which was cut before passage.
“This is a wonderful law, but it only protects infants if the public is aware of it — not only desperate mothers who need to know they will not be charged, but also the general public must understand that receiving a surrendered newborn is legal,” said Dr. Creech. “Anyone handed a baby is simply required to keep the child safe and warm and to call 911 so the Department of Social Services can be notified and take over immediately.”
The surrendering parent is not required to give any identifying information. In fact, according to the Safe Surrender protocol outlined on the Macon County Web site, mothers are told “We do not want to know who you are!” While a form is made available for a mother to share medical or health information that may be important to the family who eventually adopts her child, she is assured that she can leave the baby in good hands whether or not she gives any information, and that details provided will not be used to find her.
Differing from a Safe Haven law, which designates certain locations where babies can be surrendered, North Carolina’s law names people who may take temporary custody of the baby, including on-duty health care providers, law enforcement officers, social service or emergency workers or any responsible adult.
Rep. Haire had at one time floated a bill that would have added the law to the school curriculum so that students would be informed. But the measure did not pass.
He said with the current fiscal climate, he doubted any money could be made available specifically to advertise the law, but that organizations across the state, both public and private, should voluntarily spread the word.
“This is where churches could help,” said Dr. Creech. “Anytime, pastors or other church leaders talk with Christians about the pro-life message, they should include information about the state’s Safe Surrender Law.”
He said the more people who are informed, the better chance for the word to spread to women who are desperate to conceal their pregnancies and therefore would not likely seek help via a doctor’s office or pregnancy care center. “Whatever the situation, these women need to know that once they’ve given birth, they don’t have to hide or harm that child, and they don’t have to fear that they will be arrested,” he said. “If they can’t care for the baby, surrendering him or her is truly an act of love. They need to know that their state supports them in this difficult decision and is trying to make it as simple as possible.”