Abandoned baby bill sent to governor

Tuesday, April 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Parents can drop off their newborn infants with a medical provider without being prosecuted for child abandonment under legislation sent to Gov. Frank Keating on Monday.

The Oklahoma House gave final approval to the abandoned baby bill following emotional debate in which opponents said the measure will dissuade young parents from acting responsibly and raising their newborns.

``We're institutionalizing irresponsibility,'' Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, said.

Supporters said the measure offers parents an alternative to disposing of unwanted infants in garbage bins and bathrooms.

``We would rather have a baby that is alive and in the process than a dead baby,'' said Rep. Mike Wilt, R-Bartlesville.

``If one baby is saved, then this legislation is worth everything that we're putting in it today,'' said Rep. Greg Piatt, R-Ardmore.

The measure, which was previously passed by the Senate, permits a parent to leave a newborn up to seven days old with a medical provider or law enforcement officer without fear of prosecution for abandonment.

The abandonment of infants is a problem in Oklahoma as well as other states.

The teen-age parents of a newborn infant found alive in a trash container in Oklahoma City last year each face trial for attempted murder.

In Tulsa, a newborn girl was discovered abandoned in a trash can in a bathroom at the Tulsa Zoo in November 1998. The mother, a 39-year-old Dewey woman, pleaded guilty to child abuse and was sentenced to prison.

The bill's author, Rep. Susan Winchester, R-Chickasha, said it is similar to legislation already passed in 32 other states. Winchester has said at least eight infants have been left with medical providers in Texas since a similar law was passed there.

The measure is almost identical to a bill Winchester sponsored last year that passed the House but was heavily amended in the Senate. It failed to gain final approval.

Keating supported the abandoned baby bill last year but has not had an opportunity to review the new bill, Keating's press secretary, John Cox, said.

Graves questioned Winchester at length about provisions that allow parents to drop off their children anonymously. He said parents should be required to identify themselves to give their child a medical history.

``I think it's better to have a live child with no information than a dead child and know everything about it,'' Winchester said. ``Medical histories don't mean anything to dead babies.''

Graves also asked about the rights of fathers whose children are abandoned by their mothers without the fathers' knowledge. Winchester said the measure requires authorities to search for family members before the child is put up for adoption.

Rep. Carolyn Coleman, R-Moore, said the measure will encourage parents to abandon their children.

``I don't want to live in a place where people do this kind of stuff,'' Coleman said. ``You're opening up the floodgates. It's a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible thing to do.''