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Newborn's death: 2008 Alaska safe haven law has never been used

Oct. 29, 2013 - 02:39PM   |  
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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — A 2008 state law that lets parents surrender newborn children at places like hospitals and fire stations, no questions asked, has never been used.

The law gained renewed attention with the arrest of Ashley Ard, who faces second-degree murder charges after Anchorage police say she left her baby at an Eagle River park on Oct. 15, about a mile from a fire station. A dog walker found the baby’s body, which was wrapped in a towel and hidden under a bush, later that morning.

Ard, a 24-year-old married Army specialist and mother to a toddler, had recently moved to Alaska from Georgia. Little is publicly known about her circumstances before she gave birth.

Christy Lawton, director of Alaska’s Office of Children’s Services, told the Anchorage Daily News the Safe Surrender For Infants Act was meant to offer desperate mothers a way out. At the time the law was being considered in Alaska, only this state and Nebraska lacked a safe surrender law.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says infants in the state had been abandoned before, including a baby girl found in a bathroom stall at Alaska Regional Hospital in 1994 and a baby boy abandoned on a sidewalk on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus in 1995.

But Lawton said abandonments are rare, a fact she said could be due to the state’s small population and relatively tight-knit social structures, especially in rural areas.

State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who first proposed the bill, said she did so believing it could save lives. She said she had “desperate teenagers” in mind.

The 2008 law allows parents to bring newborns to hospitals, fire stations, emergency medical service providers or police officers up to 21 days after birth.

Susan Morgan, a health department spokeswoman, said the state publicized the law with public service announcements and advertisements.

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