Iowa enacted a safe haven law 14 years ago to save the lives of unwanted newborns. But do the moms most in need of a safe haven for their babies even know the law exists? If 22-year-old Ashley Hautzenrader of Davenport had availed herself of Iowa’s safe haven law, her newborn might not have ended up in a trash can at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Mother’s Day. News reports indicate that the baby survived, retrieved from the trash can shortly after birth by hospital employees. Rather than condemning the mother, though, we as a community of faith need to redouble our efforts to reach out to pregnant and new moms who are in distress.
Clearly, the safe haven law is a last resort. It “allows parents — or another person who has the parent’s authorization — to leave an infant up to 14 days old at a hospital or health care facility without fear of prosecution or abandonment” (Iowa Department of Human Resources http://dhs.iowa.gov/safe-haven). The safe haven law does not appear to be frequently used. Iowa DHS reported March 23, 2016, that its officials have used the state’s safe haven procedures for the 25th time since the law went into effect (in 2002). Wendy Rickman, an administrator for the agency, observed that “Iowa’s law has allowed the safe transfer of custody and care of 25 infants.” That statement was issued before this latest incident.
If we truly believe and act upon the belief that every life is precious, we’ve got to do what we can to ensure that no other newborn ends up in the trash. Jeanne Wonio, a longtime pro-life advocate from Davenport, sees a need for Safe Haven posters in strategic locations. Counselor’s offices on high school and college campuses, public restrooms, shopping malls and bus stops would be a good start.
Let’s add a list of resources to those Safe Haven posters (which are available on the DHS website) so that distressed mothers-to-be become familiar with more life-affirming options such as adoption agencies, Birthright and Pregnancy Resources. And let’s get our parishes involved in the Gabriel Project, a program that provides “angels” to accompany at-risk mothers-to-be and their unborn babies.
Through the Gabriel Project, women distressed over an unplanned pregnancy receive confidential and compassionate outreach through local parishes. Trained angels respond in a loving manner to the needs of the mother-to-be, and witness to the infinite and healing power of God (http://www.gabrielproject.us/).
What a terrific outreach to consider undertaking in this Year of Mercy. Trained “angels” at participating parishes (Catholic and non-Catholic churches could work together) provide emotional and spiritual support, along with friendship, encouragement and prayer. Practical help could include assistance with pre-natal care, maternity and baby clothes, housing referrals, medical care, counseling, parenting support or adoption information. At present, the Gabriel Project is available in Des Moines and at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames, Iowa. Surely, parishes in our diocese could consider establishing the Gabriel Project here.
“We save the mother, we’ll save the child,” observes Deacon Larry Kehoe of Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, who helped found the Gabriel Project there. “The angels truly are angels … they reach out with the love of Christ to the woman. Whatever that woman needs, (the angel) will take care of it.”
Before any of us say, “My parish can’t take on one more project,” let’s think about the ways we can collaborate with our fellow Christians in other parishes so that no other mom would think her only recourse is to dump her newborn in a trash can.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor