Neonaticide Is On The Decline & Safe Havens For Desperate Moms Might Have Something To Do With It

Here’s something we can all be happy about. Fewer newborns in Austria are dying at the hands of their mothers — also known as neonaticide. And some very admirable safe haven laws — which allow desperate mothers to anonymously leave their newborns — has experts feeling pretty good about that particular dip in newborn deaths.

Reuters reports that a study, which reveals a 57 percent drop in neonaticides (that’s 3.1 per 100,000 births), doesn’t necessarily prove that the law is working. But ever since Austria put the law into place in 2001, newborn deaths have been on the decline:

“We assume the law gives women who are desperate, who deny their pregnancy, who become aware of the pregnancy too late or experience denial in the first two trimesters a chance to get out of the situation,” Claudia Klier, an author of the study, told Reuters Health. “This gives them a solution.”…Still, the authors said they could identify no other “socioeconomic or policy changes in Austria that could be associated with the observed decrease, such as the passage of abortion laws or changes regarding childbirth benefits.”

While Austria has maintained this law, the rates of neonaticide have reportedly “held steady” in both Sweden and Finland where desperate mothers have no such options.

According to these same researchers, we have a little data about the effectiveness of safe haven laws — both abroad and here in the United States. But what we do know looks pretty promising. Thirty to 40 woman use Austria’s anonymous safe haven law every year, which put a dent in that original Austrian neotaticide rate of 7.2 per 100,000 births.

Researchers boiled down the common factors of neonaticide to the following trio: a history of trauma, troubled relationships, and a denial of the pregnancy. Some previous research in France also highlighted that women who leave their babies in hospital do consider harming the baby while it is in utero as well.

An associate professor of clinical psychiatry and pediatrics, Susan Hatters Friedman, says that neonaticide is “really underestimated” adding morbidly that “If a woman can hide the pregnancy, she can hide the body.”

But with more safe haven laws like these, perhaps these women will no longer have to entertain such grim thoughts.

(photo: Zurijeta / Shutterstock)

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  • Sarah

    Just did a 10 page paper and a 90 minute presentation about safe haven for one of my MSW courses!

    Great to see safe haven info anywhere! Great article.

  • Kai

    I don’t understand why everywhere doesn’t have these set up.

    If you don’t feel like you can take care of a child, I don’t want a child left in your care! I think it’s a good thing that a child can get the care it needs rather than being potentially in danger, and I think it is good of a parent to do what’s best for the child, even if that means removing themselves, and should not be prosecuted for it.

    I do think that it’s important to ensure that support for parents comes along with it. If a person can’t parent, I want the child to be left for others to adopt and love. But if a parent is just overwhelmed, I want them to be able to access resources to help them out without drastic measures becoming necessary.

  • Correction

    You have incorrectly reported this – Dr Klier is talking about Austria’s anonymous delivery law, not the safe haven laws. She argues that Austria’s law allowing hospitals to provide take in women for labour who wish to remain anonymous, has helped to cut the rate of neonaticide. (Of course, this only works because healthcare is free for everyone in Austria anyway). See the original Reuters report: