Originally created 04/02/02

Senators approve baby abandonment bill



ATLANTA - Mothers of unwanted babies would have a safer option for their children under a plan approved Monday by the Georgia Senate.

After weeks of political maneuvering threatened to derail the measure, the Safe Place for Newborns Act now needs only House approval of minor changes and the governor's signature to become law.

Under the bill, mothers could drop off babies up to 7 days old at a hospital or other medical facility - no questions asked. Currently, mothers can be charged with a crime for abandoning their children.

"It's just another level of protection for the children of our state," said Sen. Nadine Thomas, D-Atlanta, one of the plan's supporters.

The bill has been introduced in the General Assembly for several years. It received new support this year after several newborns were abandoned in trash cans, bathrooms and other remote locations.

One such case was in McDuffie County, where investigators said Monday they are awaiting DNA test results that might help identify the body of an infant found on the lawn of a Thomson apartment complex.

The baby was found March 15 wrapped in two Wal-Mart plastic bags at White Oak Extension duplexes.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation's crime lab has given top priority to the tests, said Mike Seigler, the special agent in charge of the Thomson GBI office.

Preliminary results showed that the infant was a boy who appeared to have been alive for no more than 48 hours.

In Atlanta, the baby abandonment bill received wide support from both parties, but not all senators like it.

"Abandoning a newborn is irresponsible behavior," said Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg. "I believe this legislation basically encourages irresponsible behavior."

The bill passed 43-6. Mr. Seabaugh was joined in his opposition by Sens. Joey Brush, R-Appling; Robert Brown, D-Macon; Dan Lee, D-LaGrange; Robert Lamutt, R-Marietta; and Charlie Tanksley, R-Marietta.

Senators had considered the bill earlier this year, but a vote was postponed when Sen. Mike Beatty, R-Jefferson, added an abortion-related amendment. It would have required that women seeking an abortion be given detailed written information about the procedure 24 hours in advance.

Ultimately, Mr. Beatty agreed to remove his amendment, fearing it would derail the bill, which he supported.

"It's become very obvious to me that a debate and a vote on this (abortion) issue will not be allowed in this chamber," said Mr. Beatty, a challenger of Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who presides over the Senate, in the November election.

"I believe we show a lack of courage when we refuse to debate controversial issues because it's uncomfortable or the political consequences are uncertain."

David Sutton, a spokesman for Mr. Taylor, said the lieutenant governor supports the Safe Place for Newborns Act and is glad it passed. But he disagreed with Mr. Beatty's complaints on the abortion issue.

Staff writer Greg Rickabaugh contributed to this report.

Georgia leaders supporting the Safe Place for Newborns Act don't expect many cases of women leaving their babies at hospitals. In New York, where a similar law exists, there were nine cases of "emergency relinquishment" of newborns last year.