Owensboro—The cheerful smile is proof enough that life is good for Gloria Hope Lewis.
The 12-year-old Owensboro girl has become a face for the hundreds of newborns who have been left at fire stations, hospital emergency rooms and other designated places across the country since states began enacting laws aimed at preventing the all-too-frequent cases of infants being tossed into dumpsters.
Those laws allow new parents to drop off their newborns at certain locations without fear of prosecution.
Gloria was 4 days old when her birth mother took her to a Florida fire station. She accepts what happened to her with a maturity beyond her years.
“If you have the choice between leaving a baby in a dumpster, keeping the baby and not being able to raise her, or giving her to a good family you know can raise her, which one would you choose?” Gloria asks. “That’s basically the question. It’s out of motherly love that they give their babies up.”
Gloria has grown into a blonde dynamo cherished by her adoptive parents, Mike and Lori Lewis, and her older sister, Erika. Gloria is a voracious reader, a key member of her school’s academic team and active in Bellevue Baptist Church where she assists her mother as a Sunday school teacher.
More than that, Gloria, working alongside her mother, has gotten involved in educating the public about Kentucky’s so-called Safe Infants Act, which is receiving a makeover from the Legislature this year to add churches to the places where parents can turn over their babies. Already in Kentucky, babies could be taken to fire, police and ambulance stations and hospital emergency rooms.
The legislation has cleared the House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law soon by Gov. Matt Bevin.
“The governor supports churches being safe havens for infants,” said Bevin’s spokeswoman, Jessica Ditto. “The bill is under review by the governor’s legislative team and will be sent to his desk in coming days.”
Gloria considers the addition of churches, which typically are in even the smallest communities, a good move by state lawmakers.
“A church usually is closer, less intimidating, and people feel like they can trust the church,” she said. “I know I do.”
The legislation would allow newborns up to 30 days old to be dropped off without fear of parents being criminally charged.
Rep. Donna Mayfield, the Winchester Republican who originally proposed the idea of adding churches to the list of safe havens, said she’s convinced the legislation can save the lives of innocent babies.
“I remember seeing over this past Christmas that a baby was surrendered at a manger scene in a church,” Mayfield said. “That just tells me that people are still drawn to churches and feel like that’s a place of safety and no judgment.”
Under current Kentucky law, parents can anonymously surrender their babies at police, fire and ambulance stations and hospital emergency rooms until they’re 3 days old without fear of prosecution.
Since the law was adopted in 2002, 38 infants have been dropped off at medical facilities in the state, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
As long as the baby is not injured, the law ensures that the parent or person acting for them will not be criminally prosecuted.
Churches wanting to participate in the Safe Haven program would have to display signs specifying the hours during which staff will be present.
When an infant is dropped off, the legislation would require church staff to immediately contact 911 to transport the baby to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Lori Lewis said she and husband, Michael, made the decision to go public as the adoptive parents of a safe haven baby. They’d heard about so many instances in which a birth mom, feeling helpless and hopeless, took their baby to a dumpster. Lori Lewis said she wanted moms in such circumstances to realize there was another option.
Both she and her husband have devoted themselves to educating birth moms about safe haven laws.
“We knew that by speaking out we could raise awareness,” she said. “We’re always trying to do whatever we can to educate these mothers there are options.”
The Lewis’s have become regulars in print and broadcast news. They often get calls when states institute or revise infant safe haven laws. Lori Lewis offers nothing but encouragement to birth moms who find themselves in dire circumstances, including the one who gave Gloria.
“She knew that, at this point in her life, she couldn’t parent children,” Lori Lewis said. “She loved her child so much—enough that she was able to give her to the firemen to make sure she could be part of a forever family.”
Lori Lewis is bent on saving other babies, and, for her, that means educating birth moms about safe haven laws. She is working with the organization A Safe Haven for Newborns to raise awareness.
It’s crucial, Lori Lewis said, that birth mothers see this as a viable option.
“I have compassion for them,” she said. “I understand that life has dealt them some hard knocks. We’re not walking in their shoes. We can’t know where they’re at in their lives.”
Lori Lewis said it’s vital that birth mothers understand that the babies they give up must be handed over to an actual person, not outside a door. That’s especially crucial when it comes to churches that may not be staffed regularly.
“The baby must be handed to a person,” she said. “Placing them on a step and leaving is abandonment. You must put them in someone’s arms.”
Gloria would offer encouraging words for other children who have been given up at safe havens for infants.
“I would tell them that their mom loved them enough to give them up,” she said, “and that they can be happy because their moms chose life instead of abandonment.”
To learn more about A Safe Haven for Newborns call 1-844-767-2229 or visit www.asafehavenfornewborns.com. (KT)