Safe Haven gives unwanted newborns a chance at life

Nora Dvorak, standing, shows a flyer about the Newborn Safe Haven program to Pat Brown. Both are volunteers in the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Department.

By Jeanne Wonio

A decade ago, after reading newspaper articles about unwanted newborns found dead in the river, Nora Dvorak decided to do something to prevent such tragedies.

“I had heard about programs in other states in which an unwanted baby could be taken to a hospital, no questions asked, as long as it was a healthy newborn,” said Dvorak, a retired social worker and member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.

She contacted other states about their Safe Haven laws. With the information she obtained, Dvorak compiled packets about Safe Haven laws and took them to a juvenile court judge, an attorney who worked with juveniles in the Scott County attorney’s office, the Iowa Department of Human Services and Genesis and Trinity hospitals.

“They were very enthusiastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with.” Among the things she said were critical to creating a Newborn Safe Haven agreement for Scott County:

• The Scott County attorney agreed not to prosecute if a healthy newborn was brought to the hospital.

• Police would not be contacted, provided the baby was healthy when brought to the hospital.

• The individual bringing the newborn to the hospital would not be required to answer questions. The hospital representative receiving the infant could ask about the baby’s birth date and health needs.

• The baby’s family had 30 days in which to reconsider the decision.

“We didn’t want anything to be a barrier for them to bring a healthy newborn to the hospital,” Dvorak said.

The Scott County agreement occurred in 2001; later that year, the Iowa Legislature adopted a Newborn Safe Haven Act. It allows either a parent or a person authorized by the parent to take an infant up to 14 days old to a hospital or health care facility in Iowa. The act authorizes that custody of the infant be given to the Iowa Department of Human Services. Any identifying information remains confidential. A hearing to terminate the rights of both parents must be held within 30 days. The infant will then be placed for adoption.

Twelve infants have been received since creation of the Newborn Safe Haven Act, the Des Moines Register reported in January.

Much to Dvorak’s regret, the state of Iowa hasn’t provided funding to promote the Safe Haven program. Genesis Medical Center created a one-page flyer — in English and Spanish — for distribution and made a public service announcement (PSA).

Dvorak hopes Genesis will share its PSA with the Iowa Catholic Conference for statewide distribution. She also would like to see Safe Haven brochures updated.

“We need to educate the pediatricians, obstetricians and other health-care providers and keep this law in the public eye. Helping to publicize the Newborn Safe Haven Act would be a good project for any person or group who cares about babies.” And, she said, “We need ordinary people to step forward on this, too.”

(Wonio, a volunteer in the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Department, is actively involved in the pro-life movement.)

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