A legislator who’s a social worker has proposed expanding Iowa’s “safe haven” law to allow parents to leave a child who’s up to a year old at a hospital without fear of being prosecuted for abandoning their child.

Under current Iowa law, parents can anonymously give up babies who are less than 15 days old. Representative Mark Smith, a Democrat from Marshalltown, says expanding that time period is one way to help more “unwanted” children.

“If this offers the ability to be a distress signal and help parents who are having concerns access services, then I think it’s worth us expanding it to one year,” Smith says.

But Stephen Scott of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa warns the proposal could give parents who’ve abused their babies a way to escape prosecution.

“And (we) would also not want us to wind up with a six- or eight-month old who may have health problems, who may have had some history of abuse and is just left somewhere with no idea of what’s been going on,” Scott says.

Iowa established a “Safe Haven” law in 2001 and since then 14 mothers have taken their newborns to a hospital or clinic and surrendered their parental rights, leaving the baby behind for adoption. Rather than expand the law, Jodi Tomlonovic of the Family Planning Council of Iowa is among those urging legislators to set aside money to promote the law.

“It’s been around for a long time and it’s been amazing to me for the last few weeks talking to people who weren’t really aware of it,” Tomlonovic says, “…particularly younger people.” A spokesman for The Iowa Catholic Conference says his group is also interested in seeing the state spend some money to publicize the law.

Other lawmakers say making more Iowans aware of the “Safe Haven” law seems reasonable, but an expansion of the time period is worrisome, especially with what happened in Nebraska. In 2008 Nebraska passed a “safe haven” law that allowed parents to abandon their kids, without specifying an age range. Parents from around the country traveled to Nebraska and left children and even teenagers behind, some of whom were 17 years old. Nebraska policymakers quickly changed the law, allowing parents to leave behind babies who are no more than a month old.