Reforming the Safe Haven in Ohio: Protecting the Rights of Mothers through Anonymity

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

II.   THE BEGINNING OF STATUTORY PROTECTION

    A. Neoanticide and Infanticide: Preventing
       Maternal Crimes
    B. Texas' Baby Moses Law
    C. The Disaster of Nebraska's 2008 Safe
       Haven Legislation
    D. The Possibility of National Legislation

III.  KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF SAFE HAVEN LAWS

    A. The Relinquishment Process
    B. Statistical Insufficiencies Regarding
       Reports of Infant Abandonment
    C. Increased Awareness of the Protections
       Afforded by Safe Haven Laws
    D. Necessary Elements Comprising All Safe
       Haven Laws

       1. Limited Participation
       2. Age Restriction
       3. Designated Locations
       4. Anonymity and Immunity for Mothers

IV.   OHIO'S SAFE HAVEN LAW
V.    THE CONFLICT FOUND IN IN RE BABY BOY DOE

    A. Statute of "No Further Force and Effect"
    B. Ohio Constitutional Rules of Construction
       Under Article IV
    C. Ramifications of In re Baby Boy Doe

VI.   IMPORTANCE OF THE ANONYMITY REQUIREMENT

    A. The Myth of the Maternal Instinct
    B. Retaining the Protections Afforded Under
       Roe v. Wade

      1. A Recent Trend Toward Restriction

    C. Situational Circumstances
    D. Legislative Intent for Anonymity

VII.  CRITICISM SURROUNDING SAFE HAVEN LAWS

    A. Paternal Rights
    B. Hindrance to an Open Adoption Process

VIII. PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO JUVENILE RULE I(C)

IX.   CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Gruesome headlines of hours-old infants discarded and left for dead pepper local news channels nationwide on almost a nightly basis. Unfortunately, most people are familiar with the tragic cliche where a prom queen gives birth in the girls' restroom only to return a few minutes later to the dance floor. (1) Ohio is not immune to such tragedies. In June 2009, authorities found a newborn infant dumped in the bushes outside a Meijer store with its umbilical cord still attached--left, no doubt, by a terrified mother who did not know where to turn. (2) While the fortunate actions of a Good Samaritan helped to keep this infant alive, many other stories do not end as well. (3) In another tragic example, one Ohio mother is currently serving life in prison for putting her infant daughter in a microwave oven, causing her to burn to death. (4) Despite varying locations, the underlying motivation behind such crimes is almost always the same; the shame and panic can overwhelm a woman unprepared for motherhood. (5) To protect the lives of infants, all states and the District of Columbia have enacted some version of a safe haven law in the hopes of providing a safe alternative for new parents contemplating the unthinkable. (6) The laws are geared towards giving mothers an "anonymous way to safely relinquish their infant without any legal repercussions" by allowing for the safe abandonment of infants under specific conditions. (7)

The Ohio legislature enacted the "Desertion of Child Under 72 Hours Old" statute in 2001 for much of the same reasons that other similar statutes have been adopted. (8) Just six years later, however, the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas held that the statute was unconstitutional and of "no further force and effect." (9) According to the court, the statute's guaranteed anonymity provision was in direct conflict with the juvenile court's procedural requirement of parental notification of an abandoned child. (10) The court's reading of the statute negates one of the most critical aspects of all safe haven laws by taking away the mother's right to not withhold her identity. (11)

This Note discusses the conflict between the statewide safe haven law and the Ohio juvenile rules regarding procedure. It purports that to protect the rights of new mothers and retain the essential element of anonymity, Ohio's Juvenile Rule I(C) needs to be amended to maintain the state's current safe haven law. Therefore, because of the statewide threat Ohio courts place on Ohio's safe haven law, Juvenile Rule I(C) needs to explicitly provide for an additional exception in cases of child relinquishment. …