At 7:30 on a Monday morning, a teenage girl holding a newborn baby approached a bus stop in Sacramento. The bus stop is only a few miles from the California state capitol building, where a law called the “SSB” was enacted—the safely surrendered baby law. The SSB allows a desperate mother to give up an unwanted baby within three days of birth, no questions asked, no prosecution for child abandonment, and hopefully no infant left in a trash dumpster, the kind of tragic scenario the law was designed to discourage.
So when the teenager—strawberry blond and about 16--appeared at the bus stop and asked a kind stranger to hold her baby while she fixed a bottle, perhaps she thought she was doing the right thing as she slipped away forever…safely surrendering her infant son. The stranger called the police. The police took the 7 pound boy to a hospital, where he was determined to be in good health, one to two days old.
But even though the police initially said the teenager tried to “do the right thing”, the law says she can be arrested and prosecuted for felony child endangerment because the only legally recognized SSB sites in Sacramento are hospital emergency rooms and fire stations. Bus stops don’t qualify. So the police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the teenage mother, who could go to jail for essentially choosing a bus stop over a dumpster.
If doing the right thing in this case wasn’t the legal thing, is the greater failure with the mother or the law?