January 10, 2004
The Lessons of Our Laws

ByMark Rienzi

Normally, there is nothing newsworthy about putting your trash in a bag and tossing it by the side of the house. That's where we throw things we don't want so they can be taken away, crushed, and destroyed with everyone else's waste and garbage. It is the kind of thing we do every day without a second thought.

So why was much of New Jersey reading about someone's trash over breakfast last Sunday morning? Because a 40-year-old Trenton woman reportedly took her newborn baby girl, put her in a plastic bag, and tossed her by the side of the house. Had the baby stayed there, she likely would have died and been disposed of with the rest of the trash.

Thankfully, some anonymous but heroic Trenton citizens did not let that happen. Instead, they informed police and emergency personnel who rescued the baby and rushed her to the hospital, where she is now in good condition.

The woman who gave birth to the baby ("mother" seems too generous a term) now faces between 15 and 30 years in prison if convicted on charges of attempted homicide and endangering the welfare of a child.

Sadly, the Trenton woman's actions are more common than you might think. Just hours earlier a different New Jersey woman, this one a 42-year-old from Mt. Ephraim, reportedly tried to drown her newborn daughter in the toilet just after giving birth.

That baby is in critical condition, but likely to survive as well. She is alive thanks to the woman's boyfriend, who barged into the bathroom and called police.The woman now faces attempted murder charges.

How could they do it? How do 40-year-olds - not misguided teens but full grown adults - take their babies and throw them away to die? Where do people learn these kinds of values? What allows someone to come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to throw away a defenseless human being or to kill a newborn baby just because you don't want it?

Unfortunately, our laws send very mixed messages about the value of unwanted children. There are two ways these women could have legally rid themselves of their unwanted babies. First, they could have taken advantage of New Jersey's Safe Haven Infant Protection Act (SHIP), which allows mothers the option of leaving their babies in safe hands at a hospital or police station. SHIP says that our society values and protects even the most defenseless little human beings, even when their parents don't want them.

But there's a second legal way these women could have been rid of the baby girls they tried to kill - they could have started the killing fifteen minutes sooner than they did. More precisely, if their doctors had killed and disposed of the babies just before birth, rather than just after, it would be called a "reproductive choice" rather than a crime.

The right to kill your unwanted baby is protected in our Constitution, and it is permitted in New Jersey right up through the moment of birth. Had the sequence of events we all cringed at last Sunday morning started just minutes earlier in an abortion clinic, our laws would have protected it instead of punishing it.

Political speeches and patriotic-sounding commercials tell us that abortion is one of our most precious rights, one we need to make sure we protect for our daughters to exercise. If a new life is a problem and you get to it soon enough, our society allows for that life to be killed and disposed of discreetly and legally, so that you can get on with your own.

Given that these women could have legally killed and discarded their babies at any time during the preceding nine months, is it so surprising that they felt they could discreetly kill their babies a few moments after birth?

In the thirty years since Roe v. Wade, the number of infant homicides has skyrocketed. According to a study released last year by the Centers for Disease Control, babies are at the greatest risk for homicide during the first week of life and are now ten times more likely to be murdered on the day they are born than at any other time in their entire lives.

In fact, babies are now killed on the first day of their lives almost daily in this country. The rate of infant homicide is now twice what it was before we began telling women they were free to kill their unwanted babies before birth.

In these most recent New Jersey cases, of course, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the babies were not murdered. Instead, there is one healthy baby girl in good condition in a Trenton hospital, and another one likely to survive in Camden. Both now have a chance to experience the joys of life because caring citizens decided not to let an unwanted baby die.

But we should not let this story's happy ending distract us from its tragic roots: Someone thought if she didn't want her baby, it was okay to throw it away. Someone thought she had the right to end the life of a baby girl because she was not wanted. Where do people get such crazy ideas?