Infant Safe Haven Laws: Legislating in the Culture of Life

77 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2006


This Article analyzes the politics, implementation, and influence of Infant Safe Haven laws. These laws, enacted across the states in the early 2000s in response to much-publicized discoveries of dead and abandoned infants, provide for the legal abandonment of newborns. They offer new mothers immunity and anonymity in exchange for leaving their babies at designated Safe Havens. Yet despite widespread enactment, the laws have had relatively little impact on the phenomenon of infant abandonment. This Article explains why this is so, focusing particularly on a disconnect between the legislative scheme and the characteristics of neonaticidal mothers that makes the use of Safe Havens less likely.

The heart of the argument, however, focuses not on what Safe Haven laws fail to accomplish, but on what they achieve. This Article argues that these laws are properly understood within a larger political culture, one increasingly organized around the protection of unborn life, and that identifies itself as the culture of life. By connecting infant life to unborn life and infanticide to abortion, Safe Haven laws work subtly to promote the political goal of the culture of life: the reversal of Roe v. Wade. The laws' primary achievements may therefore be less criminological than cultural. Through an investigation of state legislative histories, this Article suggests that the rhetoric and politics of abortion set the stage for the quick enactment of Safe Haven laws nationwide. It also examines the legislative and social mechanisms by which unwed pregnancy and abortion have been taken off the table, creating a psychological crisis that leads some young women to fatally abandon their newborns.

Keywords: Safe Haven, neonaticide, infanticide, culture of life, abortion, abandonment

Suggested Citation

Sanger, Carol, Infant Safe Haven Laws: Legislating in the Culture of Life. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 106, No. 4, p. 753, May 2006, Available at SSRN:

Carol Sanger (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
212-854-5478 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

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