Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law




It is impossible to know the number of infants killed or illegally abandoned at birth. No official reporting requirements exist, but conservative estimates claim that in the United States, 150-300 infants are killed within twenty-four hours of life and that over 100 infants are illegally abandoned. Beginning in 1999, in an effort to stem the problem of neonaticide and illegal abandonment, states began enacting laws to legalize abandonment. By 2008, all fifty states had enacted safe haven laws, which allow parents to anonymously abandon newborns by delivering them to designated providers, such as hospitals. This article provides a practical and theoretical framework to discuss safe haven laws, which have come under attack by various adoption groups and legal scholars who claim the laws are ineffective. This article demonstrates that those unjustified attacks fail to recognize that increased usage of safe haven laws in states with strong public awareness programs has effectively reduced the number of infant deaths in those states. Additionally, this article contrasts American safe haven laws with models in other countries, including anonymous birth in France and baby flaps in Germany. Finally, this article considers the rhetoric of legalized abandonment and suggests that the rhetoric of kairos, or right-timing, offers a pragmatic and feminist lens through which to view safe havens as one effective option for women facing the crisis of unwanted pregnancy.

First Page


Last Page


Num Pages


Volume Number


Issue Number



William & Mary Law School

File Type



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.