Sunday, March 11, 2001


Benign conspiracy saves baby

        I wonder if Jane Doe's family will celebrate by going out and buying her something permanent. Maybe a nice silver cup with her initials engraved on it. Perhaps something more practical — a federally approved car seat. Or an optimistically huge bundle of disposable diapers.

        The baby dropped off at a hospital two months ago has made it through childbirth, abandonment and the courts. Now officially available for adoption, she'll probably wind up staying in the foster home where she has been almost since birth.

        “This has gone completely according to plan,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said. “In my job you don't get to see many happy endings, but this looks like one of them.”

"Secret, Safe Place'
        An unidentified woman brought the baby to Mercy-Franciscan Hospital at 3 a.m. Jan. 6. It is worth mentioning that it was cold — about 20 degrees. The blue towel around her was reportedly big and fluffy and she also was wrapped in a black T-shirt, but she wouldn't have stood much of a chance in a trash bin.

        Doctors said little Holly Ann Mackey, pulled from a trash bin in Franklin in December of 1998, was suffering from frostbite, hypothermia and respiratory distress. Her mother, Deborah Mackey, was sentenced to six years in prison. “I just panicked,” she said.

        In August of 1999 in Butler County, Carin Madden placed her newborn daughter in a plastic garbage bag and tied it shut. The baby suffocated. Ms. Madden is serving a life sentence.

        Channel 12 reporter Paul Adler, who has a young daughter, covered both stories and “these things stick with you a little bit longer when you have one of your own.” He and his boss, News Director Steve Minimum, pitched Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen on a program modeled after one started by a Mobile, Ala., TV reporter.

        “Before I could get it out of my mouth, the prosecutor said "yes,'” Paul said. Then Nancy Strassel, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council, worked out the details of the “Secret, Safe Place for Newborns.”

No questions asked
        The program allows parents to bring babies less than 3 days old to any hospital emergency department in the county, hand the baby to any staff member wearing hospital ID and walk away. As long as the baby is unharmed, no questions will be asked, no abandonment charges filed.

        This began last August.

        Meanwhile, a lame duck legislator was trying to get the same treatment for every distraught mother in Ohio. Or, actually, for every helpless baby in Ohio. Rep. Cheryl Winkler, who was unable to run for office again because of term limits, introduced “safe abandonment” legislation in May 2000.

        Then she spent the summer working to get it passed. A lot of meetings. A lot of pushing. A lot of work. But she got it done before she had to leave, and it goes into effect this month.

        In the scheme of things, I suppose nothing is solved. Shelters for unwanted babies don't solve the problems that put them there. They don't force parents to be responsible. They don't cure poverty. Or despair. Or drugs. Madness or sheer meanness.

        But Jane Doe, born on a cold night in January, is with people who want her for keeps. A benign conspiracy of politicians and newsmen and social servants succeeded in saving a baby. Just one.

        That's a lot.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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