k1129 BC-KS-SafeHavenLaw 1stLd-Writethru 09-09 0567

Deaths prompt Kan. AG to promote 'safe haven' law

Eds: UPDATES with additional background on Kansas law, other states, recent child death cases; quotes from AG's spokeswoman, state board's director. ADDS byline, On the Net section.


Associated Press Writer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Several killings of young children by their mothers have prompted Kansas' attorney general and a state board to try to increase awareness of the state's "safe haven" law that grants immunity from prosecution to parents who give up their newborns.

A northeast Kansas woman is serving 15 years and six months in prison for suffocating her infant son in September 2007. A judge in Doniphan County found Tamara Sue Kostman, now 23, guilty of second-degree murder last year after she pleaded no contest to the charge.

Attorney General Steve Six's office also is prosecuting two other cases. In Montgomery County, Melissa Cynthia Wells, 26, is scheduled to go trial next month on first-degree murder and child abuse charges over the death of a female toddler in her care. In Marshall County, Lauren M. Holly, 19, faces a first-degree murder charge over the death of a baby girl.

Those cases have prompted Six's office to try to make sure more residents know about the safe haven law. The attorney general's office and the state Child Death Review Board, which monitors deaths and compiles statistics, said they're encouraging health care professionals to discuss the law with women in crisis pregnancies.

"It has been some time since the attorney general's office had three cases active in a year's time," Six spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said Wednesday. "We are trying to raise awareness about the law. If resources are available, we hope to do other public awareness campaigns."

The Kansas law, also known as the Newborn Infant Protection Act, was enacted in 2000 and applies when a child is 45 days old or younger. It prevents parents from being prosecuted for child abandonment if their infant is unharmed and they leave the baby with an employee at a fire station, local health department, hospital, surgical center or clinic with 24-hour nursing care.

Angela Nordhus, the Child Death Review Board's executive director, acknowledged the state has not promoted the law enough.

"Anytime that you have that type of a homicide occur, that type of death, you're concerned about it," she said. "We certainly want to make sure that mothers are aware that that law is out there."

The first state to enact such a law was Texas in 1999, and all 50 states now have them, though the District of Columbia does not, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance, a nonprofit group based in Lorton, Va.

In Kansas, the law had the support of both abortion opponents and Planned Parenthood, as well as the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.


On the Net:

Attorney general's office: http://www.ksag.org

National Safe Haven Alliance: http://www.nationalsafehavenalliance.org/