BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — With abortions now illegal in Tennessee, a Maryville-based nonprofit is hearing from more women and girls across the state.
Since the ban on abortions went into effect on August 25, three more babies in Tennessee have been surrendered by their mothers under the Safe Haven Law.
Nine babies have been surrendered this year.
The organization A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee educates people about the Safe Haven Law.
The law "allows mothers of newborns to surrender unharmed babies to designated facilities within two weeks of birth without fear of being prosecuted," according to the Tennessee Dept. of Children's Services.
"This was made for mothers that are scared and feel they don't have any other options," said Sarah Turner, outreach director for A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee.
The Tennessee Safe Haven Law took effect in 2001 after two Blount County women pushed for legislation to help end newborn abandonment.
Shawna McConnell and Lisa Yount began that push after a newborn baby was found abandoned in a shed in Townsend in October of 2000. That baby girl died of dehydration and her 14-year-old mother was later charged with first-degree murder.
During that time, newborn abandonment was on the rise.
"Babies being left in dumpsters or on the side of the road," Turner explained. "Some of the stories are horrific and gut-wrenching."
Since 2001, 121 babies across Tennessee have been safely surrendered by their mothers, some of whom were girls as young as 12 while others were women in their 30s.
"When that number is broken down, it's around one newborn surrendered every other month over the past 21 years, so it's a very significant number," Turner said.
In July, two babies were surrendered in East Tennessee.
"Surrendering their baby, that is a brave decision. It is very brave," Turner said. "They want to protect their baby, and they feel like they have no other option."
Mothers can surrender their unharmed newborns with no questions asked to any Safe Haven Facility in Tennessee, including hospitals, fire stations and police departments. A full list of Safe Haven Facilities is available at the end of this article.
"These facility personnel are trained to just accept that baby and that is it," Turner explained. "They will not contact anybody. They don't contact law enforcement or anything like that. They will let [the mother] leave."
Those with A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee have seen an increase in call volumes this year, and expect that trend to continue as abortions are criminalized in Tennessee.
"We've seen an increase in people reaching out to us with questions about what is the Safe Haven Law," Turner said. "More facilities are reaching out because they're like, 'Oh, we want to make sure that we're prepared.'"
Turner said she and the others at A Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee are prepared to continue their mission.
"We're going to continue to work very hard to educate the entire state on this law so that these young women and mothers within the state of Tennessee know that this law exists and how they're protected by it."
All babies surrendered to a Safe Haven Facility in Tennessee have been adopted into permanent families. One baby was reclaimed by its mother.
Under Tennessee Law, the following classify as a Safe Haven Facility:
- Birthing Centers
- Community Health Clinics (health departments)
- Outpatient, Walk-In Clinics
- Emergency Medical Service Facilities (EMS)
- Fire Stations (only those staffed 24 hours)
- Police Stations (only those staffed 24 hours)