Michigan's Safe Delivery Law provides a lifeline for parents, babies

At least 241 babies have been saved in this state over the past two decades, thanks to Michigan’s Safe Delivery of Newborns Law. Public Act 232 of 2000 allows for parents to surrender anonymously and voluntarily their newborn child — up to three days old — to an emergency service provider without fear of legal charges.

Michigan enacted the Safe Delivery Law, with the strong support of Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) and Right to Life of Michigan, to protect newborns from being abandoned or otherwise harmed. Tragically, too many communities across the state had witnessed newborns abandoned in dangerous places by overwhelmed parents, resulting in deaths that could have been prevented. The policy adopted by Michigan is comparable to measures adopted by other states. Texas was the first in 1999, and now, all 50 states have similar laws.

How does the law work? It signals to mothers and fathers who are feeling frightened, uncertain or desperate about parenthood that there is a safe place for them to go with their newborn: an emergency service provider. After a baby is surrendered and deemed unharmed, parents are protected from child abandonment charges. When possible, emergency service providers collect relevant family or medical information from the parent(s) at the time of surrender and offer information on confidential medical assistance or counseling services. These providers then take temporary custody of the child, transferring them to the nearest hospital for medical care. 

Statistics show more than 97 percent of the saved Michigan infants have been surrendered to a hospital. The law also permits surrenders to a uniformed officer at fire and police stations or by calling 911. 

The policy allows for the surrendered newborns to be adopted after law enforcement officials ensure that the newborn is not a missing child. Thirty-five private adoption and foster care organizations — eight of which are Catholic — provide services for surrendered infants [1]. Agency staff work tirelessly to identify loving families and place these babies in temporary and permanent homes. The law allows parents 28 days to change their mind and to petition the court for custody before a public hearing is held to terminate parental rights.

In the last five years, anywhere from 10 to 20 babies have been saved annually as a result of Michigan’s Safe Delivery Law. Each of these children have a future because such a system of protection exists. 

To further encourage use of the law when needed, rather than neglect or abandonment, the MCC supported adding greater confidentiality protections to the law in 2017. These provisions sought to reassure struggling parents, many of whom feared the stigma of surrendering a child to an emergency service provider. Under House Bill 4311, parents would be listed on the birth certificate as “unknown” and the newborn as “Baby Doe.” This legislation received unanimous support in the Michigan Legislature and became Public Act 142 of 2017. 

The larger conversation about support for pregnancy and parenting must continue, especially assisting women in difficult situations. Efforts that make pre- and post-natal care more affordable, offer parenting advice and information, and help women feel less alone are crucial to curbing abortion rates and helping parents feel prepared for what comes after birth. In the meantime, legislation such as the Safe Delivery Law is one helpful tool for saving lives.

Take the time today to spread the word about Michigan’s Safe Delivery Law. For more information, visit the policy’s website from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service. For those considering or in need of the Safe Delivery option, call Michigan’s hotline at (866) 733-7733.

The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets and is written by Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) President and CEO Paul A. Long. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state. 

[1] These agencies include Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, Catholic Charities of West Michigan, Catholic Family Services, Catholic Human Services, Catholic Social Services of the Upper Peninsula, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw, and St. Vincent Catholic Charities.