The individual or individuals who dropped off twin infants at a church in Austin four days before Christmas may have thought they were placing the babies in good care.
But they still will face criminal charges for child abandonment, which could have been avoided if they were aware of The Illinois Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, said Dawn Geras, president of the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation.
The nonprofit group, founded in 2000, helped write the law, which allows a person to drop off a baby without threat of criminal prosecution as long as the destination is considered a “safe haven.” Churches do not fall under that category, Geras said.
The infant twins were abandoned at North Austin Lutheran Church at around 8:30 a.m. last Wednesday. The brother and sister were found by a maintenance worker inside the church vestibule. The babies were discovered in a car seat, both bundled up in a blanket. Church doors opened at 7:30 a.m., but the babies were not found until about an hour later. Police were unsure exactly when the newborns were left inside the church, located at 1500 N. Mason Ave.
Under the act, babies should be dropped off at locations that are staffed 24 hours. Hospitals, emergency medical facilities and police stations and/or staffed fire stations are “safe havens.” Because not all churches are open 24/7, they were not considered an option, said Geras.
“The idea is that the baby is handed off to someone and not just left somewhere,” she said. Most churches are not monitored 24 hours a day. If a baby is left there and nobody shows up for a couple of days you tell me what’s going to happen to them?”
The babies, believed to be twins, were found in good condition, and taken to West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park.
The babies have been named Mary and Joseph in light of the Christmas season. Mary weighed five pounds, while Joseph weighed six pounds, six ounces. The babies were apparently 2 to 3 days old. Police said the incident is under investigation.
Upon hearing about the babies, The Christian Relief Network, a group of more than a dozen West Side Churches formed after the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, formed the Twin Hope Fund.
Network co-founder Rev. Marshal Hatch of New Mt. Pilgrim Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd., said the group has already collected about $3,000 since last week. Hatch was unaware of the law and its specifics, but said he hopes the person/s who dropped the babies off are not severely punished, and that he and other churches would support them if they came forward.
“The letter of the law says one thing, but the spirit of the law says that the children should be dropped off at a safe place,” Hatch said. “I believe the spirit of the law was followed in this case.”
Since the law was signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, 41 babies have been illegally abandoned while 21 have ended up dead, according to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Geras said she would like to see the law expanded, but as it stands on the books now, people need to know how it works and follow it accordingly.
“Parents need to know that the law exists. The person who dropped the babies off was trying to be somewhat responsible but they probably don’t know the law.”
The law also states where babies end up after being dropped off. Babies dropped off at designated locations are put into pre-adoptive homes while babies abandoned illegally are placed in foster care.
Geras said the law was written to protect abandoned babies for harm or worse.
“There is nothing worse than seeing that tiny little casket with a teddy bear on it. It’s absolutely horrible. It’s unthinkable that this happens. It should never happen, anywhere.”
For more information about the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation and The Illinois Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act visit www.saveabandonedbabies.org or call the foundation at 312/440-0229.