Down in the Dumps

Last week a bill that turns hospitals, emergency rooms, police stations and fire stations into state-sanctioned baby-dumping sites passed through the Senate with only one nay vote. SB199 would allow parents to legally and anonymously abandon newborn children--no questions asked--at designated "safe havens." The idea is to save so-called dumpster babies who would otherwise be deserted and left to die by mothers who have hidden their pregnancies.

So far the bill has been supported by an unlikely coalition of feminists, abortion foes and social-service advocates. The only testimony against it has come from Helen Hill, chief petitioner of Measure 58, which gave Oregon adoptees access to their original birth certificates, including their birth mothers' names.

Recently, however, a new opponent to the bill has emerged. Jane Edwards is a member of the Women's Rights Coalition, a feminist organizing group. She is also a birth mother who relinquished a daughter for adoption in 1966.

Edwards, 58, doesn't like the bill for several reasons. Like Hill, she thinks its anonymity provision violates M58 (you can't get your original birth certificate if no one knows your mother's identity). She also questions its effectiveness.

Proponents of the Oregon bill have held up Alabama as an example. A television reporter, with the help of the Mobile district attorney, instigated a safe-haven program in November 1998. The legislature later made it state law. Since the first program began, in Mobile, seven babies have been left at drop-off sites. There has been only one illegal abandonment and no infanticides.

Things haven't been so good in the rest of the state, however. Near Birmingham, a 16-year-old Alabama girl was arrested last week for leaving her infant in a portable toilet, where it died, and a 19-year-old woman was charged with murder after her infant was found dead in a closet.

Edwards' concerns were heightened when proponents were forced to cut $850,000 earmarked for a "safe haven" public-awareness campaign from the bill. Proponents now hope to raise private funds to tout the program.

Last week Edwards tried to persuade the Women's Rights Coalition to oppose the bill. She was unsuccessful, but she's not giving up. When the bill is heard in the House Judiciary Committee on May 25, she'll be opposing it as a representative of the national organization Concerned United Birthmothers.

Willamette Week: Why won't the WRC come out against this?

Jane Edwards: I was disappointed, although I appreciate that it's very late in the session for them to look at something new. Many true-blue feminist lawmakers have signed onto this bill. I think those women are supporting it without a full understanding of the implications.

What don't you think they understand?

The bill does not address the needs of a scared, pregnant young woman. It almost treats her as nothing: 'If you're 14, alone and don't want to tell your parents, it's OK to keep it a secret and not get any prenatal care and just leave the baby in a fire station.' To me, from a feminist perspective this dehumanizes women and makes assumptions about pregnant, frightened women that aren't correct. These people seem to think that a 14-year-old who delivers a baby will drop it off at a fire station and get up and go back to school the next day without a second thought. It also doesn't take into account the danger of abuse.

In the initial hearing on the bill, Rep. Kelly Wirth stated that anyone who thinks a woman can be coerced into giving up her baby doesn't know anything about motherhood.

She doesn't know what she's talking about. When I think about this bill I remember a scene from the beginning of the movie The Color Purple. The main character gives birth, and her father, who is also the father of the baby, takes it away and places it out in a snowstorm. For me that was one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. She was traumatized and powerless. This bill could be used to cover up crimes of rape and incest, which would go on after she gave up the baby.

Were you coerced into giving up your baby?

At the time, if I'd had just a little bit of other information, I would have done something different. But I wasn't coerced as much as other women I hear from. There is a cultural idea that we should give away our children if we are ashamed. It's a frightened, weak response for a temporary problem. Besides, this kind of law hasn't helped all that many babies around the country.

Proponents say it's because it hasn't been advertised enough.

I don't buy that. They say they're going to put billboards along Interstate 5. It seems to me, as a social policy, we don't want the state of Oregon to encourage abandonment. We would like families to take care of babies and if they can't, we should provide a secure adoption. The way to help them is to have a media campaign to tell them how to get help, not to tell them how to abandon their children.



You gotta fight for your right to party: The spirits distillers are pushing a bill that would allow prepackaged piña coladas and other fancy drinks to be sold in grocery stores. That's bad news for beer and wine makers, who might see their vice tax increased to make up for the lost dollars that come in when hooch is sold through state liquor stores.

More monkey business: State Reps. Mark Hass and Charlie Ringo scored a diplomatic coup last weekend, pulling two OHSU veterinarians before Beaverton high-school students to debate Oregon Primate Center whistleblower Matt Rossell. It was the first time since Rosell went public in August that an OHSU official has made a joint appearance with him to talk about animal research treatment. Coincidentally, OHSU is asking state lawmakers for a $200 million budget bump.


"You ever read the Bible? Have you ever heard of Lazarus?"

--Lobbyist Larry Campbell, countering Sen. Lenn Hannon's killing of the professional
baseball bill

give a damn

Millionaire jocks?: Bond the income tax from ballplayers' guestimated $80 million salaries to build a professional baseball stadium in Portland. Yet Sen. Lenn Hannon, chairman of the joint Ways and Means (i.e. money) Committee, tossed it out before it got to first base. Unfazed, baseball supporters have a new proposal that would require the team owner to make up any shortfall between the players' taxes and the cost of the bonds. Contact Hannon and let him know whether you want him to play ball: (503) 986-1726.

Guns in schools: State Sen. John Minnis, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has agreed to give a hearing to Sen. Ginny Burdick's ban on concealed handguns (even for license holders) in schools. Minnis, a Portland cop, relented after Burdick used parliamentary procedure to shoot down numerous Republican crime bills. The hearing for Senate Bill 508 is Wednesday, May 23. Meanwhile, the gun lobby says it's the first step toward Armageddon. Minnis can be reached at (503) 986-1711, Burdick at (503) 986-1706.

War on drugs: The House Health and Public Advocacy Committee shut down yesterday without giving a hearing to Gov. John Kitzhaber's drug price control bill. But that doesn't necessarily mean House Bill 3300 is dead. If the governor can rally enough members of the Legislature, he could convince lawmakers to pull a "gut and stuff," which means slipping the bill in with another health-related proposal. Tell your lawmaker what you think. The Legislature's website will get you there: