By Diana Park, 17, La Cañada High School
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It’s hard to imagine why a teen would abandon her baby. The shocking news reports about a 16-year-old in Monrovia who put her baby headfirst into a dumpster in January made her sound like a cruel and uncaring teen. However, an interview with her attorney, Joe Hopkins, made her seem more like a broken girl who had a tough life and made a horrible decision.

Starting at age 12, the girl had been sent back and forth between her divorced parents, Hopkins said. Her father was a cocaine addict and her mother was sent to prison on drug-related charges. Still, despite these unstable conditions, she was a straight-A student in school, according to Hopkins.

At 15, she was raped by a 25-year-old gang member in Inglewood and was sent to live at her aunt’s place in Monrovia. She became pregnant but hid her pregnancy from her aunt who threatened to kick her out if she had a baby. She thought an abortion was out of the question because someone told her that it was really expensive and required parental permission. (Permission is not required in California.) Her lawyer said that she was afraid her mother would kill her if she found out about the baby. Consequently, she felt she had no other option but to somehow get through the pregnancy. Since she was a heavy-set girl, she was able to hide her condition.

When the time came last January, she secretly gave birth to her baby in the bathroom by herself while her aunt was in another room of the house. She ran the bath water to drown out the sounds of her birthing pains. As soon as her aunt stepped out of the house, the teen rushed out, dropped her baby in a nearby dumpster, and ran home before her aunt returned. Her lawyer told the Los Angeles Times, "She didn’t want it to die and didn’t know what else to do."

The baby, later nicknamed Baby Andrew, was found suffering from a skull fracture, hypothermia and dehydration. After the baby was found, TV reporters and other media went to cover the story. The teen joined the crowd of neighbors watching the scene and was caught on camera. Someone who knew the teen recognized her on TV and called the cops, thinking she could be the mother. She was arrested, charged with child endangerment and attempted murder, and found guilty. She now lives in a group home and her baby has been put up for adoption.

Things could have ended up differently for her and the baby, if the young mother followed the Safe Haven law, also called the Safely Surrendered Baby law. Since the law took effect in January 2001, at least 20 babies have been turned over safely, according to the California Department of Social Services.

Take the baby to the hospital within three days of its birth

This law allows mothers, fathers or adults with legal custody to leave a baby in a "safe haven" at any hospital within 72 hours (three days) of its birth and not have to worry about facing criminal charges. The law allows parents a two-week period during which they may consider taking back their baby. After that time, the baby is put up for adoption. The main goal of the law is to save innocent babies from abandonment.

Eldyne Gray from Planned Parenthood said that education is the key to preventing unwanted pregnancies from even happening. She wants to make women aware of the law and said, "If, through the Safe Haven law, even one baby is saved, it’ll be worth it."

Although the law can save lives, many people aren’t aware of it. Even if they do know about it, they might have difficulty trusting it.

"People don’t believe they won’t be prosecuted and don’t trust the law," said Hopkins. "Do you think that people won’t ask you your name and other information when you leave a baby?"

The case of another woman shows that there is confusion about the law. Around the time that the Monrovia teen was arrested, another woman was arrested for leaving her baby in the bushes near a hospital. Had she left the child inside the emergency room, the law says she wouldn’t have been charged. But she left the baby in a paper bag outside. Authorities found the baby along with a shopping receipt, which they traced back to her.

The law asks that the person who surrenders the child fill out a medical questionnaire in case the baby has medical needs in the future. People have the right to decline the questionnaire or take it home and mail it back later.

Hopkins says this law is a start, but people need to know about the law before it’ll be effective. He added that it’s unrealistic to expect teens to be able to get to a hospital. "What if you are 15 and don’t have a car? Call a taxi and say ‘Pick up me and my baby’? It’s ludicrous in my opinion."

Hopkins says the law should be advertised more—not on stations like MSNBC, but on MTV and shows that kids watch.

He added that the best way to help young people is to help their parents. The girl is remorseful and says that she didn’t know she could have done things differently. "I don’t know what her parents would have done, but they certainly didn’t convey that they loved her no matter what," Hopkins said.

"I wish I had a magic wand to do something," Hopkins said. "But what needs to be done is to help parents."

For more information about the law or to find out where to take an unwanted baby, call (877) BABY-SAFE or (877) 222-9723.