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State expands 'safe haven' law for newborns

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State officials are trying to get the word out about the expansion of Minnesota's Safe Haven law for newborn babies. 

The law now gives a mother, or someone acting with her permission, seven days after the birth of a baby to surrender the infant, rather than the previous 72-hour window.

The law also provides more options for handing over the baby safely, according to Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. That's critically important in rural areas of the state, she added.

"She can anonymously leave the baby at a hospital, or now at an urgent care center that's open," Jesson said. "Or most importantly, she can just call 911 and an ambulance will come take the baby and not ask any questions." 

Minnesota has had a Safe Haven law on the books since 2000, in an effort to encourage new mothers in crisis situations to bring their newborns to a "safe haven," rather than abandon them. 

But a spate of newborn deaths, including four babies who were abandoned in the Mississippi River over the past 12 years, spurred lawmakers to re-examine the law.  

Jesson was joined at a State Capitol news conference Wednesday by State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who sponsored the legislation. Benson referred to a poster that state officials are distributing which explains the law, saying the public needs to know there are safe options.  

  "I would encourage crisis pregnancy centers and college wellness centers, and any place that reaches out to mothers in crisis, to have these posters available," Benson said. "It might be just that moment that they pass by the poster and say, 'OK, there's an option. I'm really not alone, even thought I feel like it.'" 

The state hasn't tracked how many babies have come in under the Safe Haven law since it first passed in 2000, but Jesson estimated the number at 18. The expanded law puts a tracking component in place.