These past weeks, the news has been full of various, if typical, distractions. The Napster decision, the Concorde tragedy, a presidential campaign that seems to become less relevant with each passing day, the bumbling "catch and release" antics of the NYPD, the threat of riots in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. and New York's senatorial race?along with the expected summertime rash of floods, fires, locust plagues and collapsing buildings.
In the midst of it all, a tiny piece of legislation was quietly signed into law by Gov. Pataki. And, much like the coercive and subtly draconian HIV Notification law he passed a few weeks earlier, it received virtually no press coverage in New York City, where it would matter most.
As of Tues., July 18, parents are now free to abandon their newborn babies without fear of any criminal charges being pressed. It sounds ridiculous, but it's absolutely true, and it's on the books. Yes, there are a few stipulations: the parents have to abandon the newborn within five days after giving birth, and it must be left in a safe place, such as a hospital or a fire station. The baby must be unharmed at the time of the abandonment, and the parents must notify some responsible party of what they've done as soon as possible.
Still, in New York state, having a child is now akin to ending up with a boxful of puppies.
Similar laws, the first of which was passed in Texas, already exist in 13 other states. New York's law differs from those others in that it holds tight to the five-day time limit (in other states, the grace period is extended up to a month) and allows a state prosecutor to determine whether or not the place of abandonment was "safe."
Gov. Pataki explained the reasoning behind the law this way: "This...will help save lives by giving often young, desperate mothers an opportunity to place their child in a safe place.'' Yes, that almost sounds like a good thing.
Though the exact statistics vary dramatically depending on the source, the number of abandoned children nationwide has risen steadily over the past decade?as has the number found dead. On the surface, this new law is an attempt, if ham-fisted, to prevent any more newborns from being left in public toilets or midtown trashcans. And if you speak in terms of "protecting helpless infants," of course no one's going to question you. No one's going to come out against such a thing. But at heart, this new law isn't about protecting children so much as it's about protecting irresponsible adults?people who should never have become parents in the first place.
Certainly, accidents happen. Methods of birth control fail, and women who do not want children find themselves pregnant. But this is what abortions are for. I am in full support of abortion rights. In fact, I'm in favor of expanding existing abortion laws to what some might consider an absurd, if not frightening degree. It should be much easier for teen mothers in desperate circumstances?or anyone?to receive abortions quietly and safely.
This is not about Democrats or Republicans or Independents?it's about taking responsibility for the messes you find yourself in. In my own case, I knew in my early 20s that I was not upstanding father material, so I had myself fixed, thus removing it as a possibility. If the government is not interested in expanding abortion laws, the least they could do is make it easier for a woman to get a tubal ligation before the age of 35 (which, in the absence of a serious medical condition, is almost impossible now)?rather than simply providing them with this new option of throwing their children away "safely." As the Governor would have it, this is not a personal responsibility issue, but rather one of convenience?being able to choose the easiest way out.
Granted, sometimes it's too easy to say, "Well, get an abortion," or "Put it up for adoption," or "You should've thought about that beforehand." Situations change. Young parents panic. A savage bout of post-partum depression can strike even the most loving mother. And there's the Catholic issue.
Still, if you become parents and you carry a child to full term, you have had time to alter your plans, to make arrangements, to adapt. In short, you have had time to accept and deal with certain responsibilities?responsibilities this new law conveniently removes.