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But advocates for longer amnesty periods say it's important to provide an alternative for parents who try to keep their newborns but become dangerously overwhelmed. "If the baby's being abused, don't we want to save that baby too?" says Dawn Geras of Save Abandoned Babies in Chicago. Alberto Torrico, the state assemblyman who sponsored California's 30-day extension, and Donne Trotter, a state senator who pushed the later deadline in Illinois, agree. They argue that parents should have time to decide if they are fit. "The reality of raising a baby really dawns on you once you get it home," Torrico says.
Still, the main impetus for drafting surrender statutes was dealing with brand-new moms who would not hesitate to leave their babies in Dumpsters. "They don't look at the baby as a human being," says Debbe Magnusen, founder of Project Cuddle, a national hotline to rescue unwanted babies, who has helped mothers ranging in age from their teens to their 30s. "It's a tumor or an object or a problem." Spreading the word about the existence of surrender laws has been hard. The details of California's are supposed to be taught in sex-ed classes and publicly advertised. But with no state funding available, it's up to local governments and private foundations like Magnusen's to promote the law.
Somehow Tessa's birth mother found out about it. And giving up her baby gave the child a chance at a good life, at least in the eyes of Donna Leavitt, who with her husband Rob ended up adopting the girl: "I can't help but think that the safe-surrender sign at the fire station helped lead Tessa to us." The Leavitts would love for their daughter to meet her birth mom. But in most cases that is unlikely, since the law allows surrendering parents to be anonymous. "Many of these mothers do not like their babies," says Magnusen. "We're not asking them to love the baby, just not to kill it." In California, they may soon have more time to make that decision.