Desperate parents have a safe, no-questions-asked option.
The heartbreaking discoveries of the bodies of abandoned infants in the Mississippi River have occurred with tragic regularity over the past 12 years.
In the most recent case, the body of a 7-pound girl was found floating in bag filled with angel figurines near Winona last September. Five years before and 60 miles upriver, another baby girl had been found near Red Wing. An infant boy's body had been recovered in that same stretch of the river in 2003, and an infant girl in 1999.
A recent expansion of Minnesota's "Safe Place for Newborns" law won't solve the sad mystery of these babies' identities. But it is a compassionate step that should help prevent parents from making the same desperate decision in the future. Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who pushed for the changes, and state lawmakers who approved them last session, deserve credit for collaborating on a policy measure that is a logical, humane response.
Minnesota's safe-place law was put in place in 2000. It allowed an unprepared mother, or someone acting on her behalf, to surrender babies at hospitals up to three days after the birth. But the well-intended law had become one of the narrowest in the nation, with other states allowing a broader time frame for surrendering babies after birth.
The sad cases along Minnesota's stretch of the Mississippi were evidence that the state had to do better.
The amended law, which became effective this month, now provides a seven-day window after a birth to give up the child. It also expands the places where the child can be surrendered. Before, hospitals were the only option. Now, distraught parents can also dial 911 for an ambulance or take the baby to an urgent-care clinic during normal business hours.
Policymakers should consider monitoring the law's effectiveness and possibly expanding the seven-day window if evidence suggests more should be done. Iowa, for example, has a 14-day time frame. North Dakota allows parents up to one year.
Hopefully, distraught parents and those who care for them understand that they have new, no-questions-asked options available for giving up an infant. Strengthening the law sends a welcome message that Minnesota values its children and that help -- without judgment -- is standing by.
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