Utah lawmakers approve 30-day window for giving up newborn children

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Nurse Alfred Romeo of the Utah Department of Health discusses the Utah Newborn Safe Haven Law during a news conference at IMC-Murray hospita, Aug. 26, 2014, to answer questions regarding the incident in Kearns of a newborn being left in a trash can by the mother. Officials discussed resources and options available that could help avoid a repeat incident in the future.

Utah parents could legally abandon their newborn children at a hospital up to 30 days after the child’s birth under a bill that has received unanimous votes from both chambers of the state Legislature.

The measure is intended to prevent the horror stories of women abandoning unwanted newborns in dumpsters or restrooms.

Senators voted 23-0 for HB97 on Wednesday, following a 72-0 vote in the House earlier this month. A final, procedural vote of the Senate is expected later this week before the bill is sent to the governor for his signature or veto.

“I believe, sincerely, that this law will continue to help children find safe, happy homes,” said Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, the bill’s Senate sponsor, “and allow mothers to not live with the guilt of having dropped a baby in an unsafe place, simply because they did not know where to go.”

Utah has had a so-called “safe haven” law since 2001, under legislation sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek. Arent, who is retiring from the Legislature after this year, is also the primary sponsor of HB97, which extends the state’s existing 72-hour drop-off window after a child’s birth to 30 days.

Sandall told his colleagues that the law has resulted in 42 children being safely relinquished by their parents. The extension to 30 days, he said, is meant to address parents who are not able to determine within three days of giving birth whether they have the means or ability to care for a child.

Allowing the safe haven option, Sandall said, allows biological parents to live “without guilt or fear of repercussions simply because they did not feel that they could care for the infant.”