SC bill postponed to allow legal abandonment of babies up to age 1

COLUMBIA, S.C.—A state Senate subcommittee on Thursday put off until next year a bill that would allow a mother to legally abandon her baby up to age one. South Carolina’s current “safe haven” law allows a mother to abandon her child up to 60 days after birth, as long as the baby is in good health and she leaves it with a person at a hospital or emergency room, law enforcement station, fire station, or church or synagogue.

Rep. Heather Crawford, R-Socastee, sponsored the bill after two incidents in Horry County in 2015. In one, a newborn baby was found thrown in a dumpster. The baby survived. In the other, a five-month-old baby was drowned in a creek and her mother was later convicted of her murder.

“If they cannot care for that child, I would much rather see them deliver that child to a safe haven location than that child end up in a creek or buried in a shallow grave or left on a side of a road or in a dumpster, like the unfortunate incidents that we’ve seen in the past,” she said Thursday.

The bill easily passed the House earlier in the session. But at a Senate subcommittee hearing on it Thursday, the state Department of Social Services said that, while it supports the goal of the bill, it’s concerned about the fact that most other states’ safe haven laws are for babies up to 30 or 60 days, not one year.

Karen Wingo, communications director and legislative director for DSS, says, “Children form bonds with the caregivers and research varies, anywhere between six months to nine months, so the concern would be extending the definition of infant into an age at which the child has formed those bonds and attachments, and evaluating the pros and cons of that.”

Senators on the subcommittee agreed that they need more time to study the possible consequences and voted to carry the bill over until next year. With only three legislative days remaining in the session, they also said it would be almost impossible to get the bill to the Senate floor and up for a vote before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

Rep. Crawford says she’ll keep working to get the bill passed. “My concern is for the children and for the defenseless and those that need help,” she says.