A 23-year-old woman is incarcerated at the Anderson County Detention Center in South Carolina, facing charges of murder in the death of her newborn baby girl.

Joanie Faith Holcombe admitted that she buried the dead infant, who was at seven or eight months gestation, under a pine tree in a field on Cherokee Circle, near Highway 24 in Anderson, South Carolina. It is unclear at this time whether the infant was born in the woods, or whether the birth took place somewhere else and the child was brought there.

Investigators were called to the scene when the newborn’s body was discovered by a man walking through the woods on Saturday morning. Chief Deputy Coroner Charlie Boseman of the Anderson County Sheriffs Office and Don McCown, an expert in child deaths, investigated the scene.

Television station WYFF in Greenville, SC talked with Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper, who said,

“I don’t know this young mother’s exact situation, but I do know that others who find themselves with an unwanted newborn have viable options. One option is guaranteed by the South Carolina Safe Haven Law.”

The Safe Haven Law, also called Daniel’s Law, stipulates:

A person who abandons a newborn cannot be prosecuted for abandonment if he or she takes the unharmed baby to staff or an employee of a safe haven.

Safe havens are defined as a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, law enforcement agencies, fire stations, emergency medial services (EMS) stations or a house of worship during the time the church or synagogue is staff.

  • If the baby has been harmed in some way, the immunity from prosecution may not apply. The law applies to infants up to 30 days old.
  • The person leaving the child does not have to reveal his or her identity.
  • The person leaving the child will be asked to provide medical information about the baby’s parents, and if possible, the name of the baby’s parents. This will help the medical personnel treat the baby for any health problems.
  • The hospital will provide medical care and contact South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS will have legal custody of the child and will place the child in a foster home.
  • DSS will immediately pursue family court action to free the child for adoption.

According to Newser, there have been more than 2,800 safe surrenders in the U.S. since 1999; but more than 1,400 other children have been found illegally abandoned, nearly two-thirds of whom died.

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Another option which may help young mothers who are emotionally or financially unprepared for the responsibilities of parenthood is the drop box.

Pastor Lee checks the drop box to find an abandoned infant (from the film)

Pastor Lee checks the drop box to find an abandoned infant (from the film)

In early 2015, I saw the limited-release documentary “The Drop Box” which tells the story of South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak’s efforts to save babies who might otherwise be abandoned on the streets. Pastor Lee builts a “drop box”, a rudimentary wooden box with a bell, in the wall of his home in Seoul, South Korea.  There, mothers could place their babies knowing that their own identity would remain anonymous, and that the babies would be cared for and loved.

In Indiana, State Representative Casey Cox introduced a bill in February 2015 to install drop boxes in hospitals, fire stations, churches, and selected nonprofits. Representative Cox called his bill a natural progression of “safe haven” laws, which give parents a legal way to surrender newborns at hospitals and other facilities without fear of criminal prosecution for abandonment. The Indiana House of Representatives approved the proposed legislation, which would have made Indiana the first state to implement wide-scale use of the baby boxes.

However, in November 2015, the state’s Children’s Commission decided to sidestep newborn safety incubators (drop boxes) and direct its attention instead to education for the public about Indiana’s existing safe haven law. Advocates of the padded, heated boxes said the boxes would give parents a safe way to give up their infants without speaking to anyone and deter them from leaving babies in the woods or a trash can. But the IndyStar reported that

“…the legislation stalled amid concerns it might cause more babies to be abandoned by parents who might have sought help elsewhere. Legislators asked the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana to study the issue.”

That commission defeated the drop box bill by a unanimous vote.