Originally created 09/27/03

14 newborns left under state law



ATLANTA - Savannah's "Baby Grace" is continuing to have a major impact in Georgia, more than a year and a half after the days-old infant was rescued from a trash bin.

According to state records, 14 babies less than a week old have been dropped off at hospitals or clinics in 10 counties since the state's Safe Place for Newborns Act took effect in May of last year.

"That's 14 people who, hopefully, will become productive citizens and not a statistic," said Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, a member of the House Health & Human Services Committee and a supporter of the bill.

Legislation to allow mothers of unwanted newborns to drop them off at a place where they could receive medical care without fear of prosecution had been percolating for several years in the General Assembly.

The proposal made little progress, partly because of concerns - particularly among social conservatives - that it would make it too easy for young women to avoid taking responsibility for conceiving unwanted children outside of marriage.

Then along came Baby Grace, who was abandoned in a trash bin in January 2002 and discovered by trash collectors.

The infant was treated at Savannah's Memorial Health University Medical Center. Later, hospital officials spearheaded the push to convince the Legislature to pass the legal abandonment bill.

Dr. Iffath Hoskins, a high-risk obstetrician and gynecologist at Memorial and the hospital's executive director of women's services, said she was able to convince lawmakers concerned about the bill's potential social implications that the health of babies who are only days old should be the paramount issue.

"A newborn baby cannot survive if he or she is exposed to the environment without care," she said.

Ms. Burmeister said the bill got a key boost among Republicans when then-GOP Rep. Anne Mueller of Savannah, one of the Legislature's most ardent abortion foes, signed on as a co-sponsor.

"I think that's what helped propel it among the 'Do-something-wrong-throw-away-the-key' crowd in the party," Ms. Burmeister said.

According to records compiled by the state Division of Family and Children Services, newborns have been dropped off under the new law's provisions throughout Georgia. Of the 14 abandoned babies, three were in Fulton County and two in Gwinnett County. The others were scattered, from urban counties such as Chatham and Richmond to rural counties such as Elbert and Ben Hill.

DFCS spokeswoman Renee Huie said the child-protection agency took custody of 12 of the 14 newborns.

"I don't know what happened to the other cases," she said. 'I'm assuming a relative or someone came forward."