|GARDEN OF ANGELS|
April 7, 2000
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Everywhere you look, motherhood is a hot topic. Even the material girl has been rhapsodizing about it, while her latest movie, "The Next Best Thing," is all about that topic.
MADONNA: Robert is the most incredible man. We're never getting married, so we can't get divorced.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Rosie O'Donnell routinely discusses her growing adopted brood on her show.
ROSIE O'DONNELL: That's an hour, or maybe two of the kids out of your face, you know what I mean?
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Annette Bening has had her fourth child with Warren Beatty, and has been working on her first with comedian Gary Shandling in "What Planet are you From?"
ANNETTE BENING: I've actually decided I'm not going to have sex until I get married.
GARY SHANDLING: I'm sorry.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: There are also weekly updates from the high-tech world of baby-making, and heart-tugging featurettes about people adopting orphans from Russia or China. We're in a baby frenzy. But that frenzy is a far freeway ride from this lonesome little burial plot in Calimesa, California, about 75 miles East of L.A. Here, beneath the San Bernardino mountains, lie 41 graves for some of America's abandoned newborns-- their bodies left in dark alleys and dumpsters. The crosses here have no birth or death dates, only the dates of the burial. No family members come to visit. The bodies were picked up at various coroner's offices and brought here by a zealous 42- year-old woman, who has made a point of rounding up these diminutive corpses and bringing them here for a proper burial. The sense of disconnection one sometimes feels in this country is overwhelming. How is this possible? Who would do this -- let a baby die when there are so many eager hands to take it? What goes on in the mind of an adolescent girl who finds herself pregnant against her wishes? What fear, or shame, or denial keeps her from making sure her baby is in safe hands?
MUSIC VIDEO: If you had my love, and I gave you all my trust would you comfort me...
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: No question, to young women and young men, the culture sends mixed pro- and anti-sex signals. Practically every commercial, every sitcom is sex-spiced, and there has been a renewed spate of babe-watching TV shows. Meanwhile, the birth control pill is still scantily advertised, school sex-ed classes emphasize abstinence, and abortion has become increasingly difficult for the young. There's not much outreach about the choices young women have if they do find themselves pregnant. All of this comes against the backdrop of a violence-prone entertainment world that can't help but desensitize kids in general.
SPOKESMAN: Let's play!
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: How else to account for that high school senior in new jersey who a couple of years ago gave birth in the bathroom at her prom, and then went back to dance after she and the baby's father put the newborn in the trash bin as if it were refuse. In recent months, there has been a kind of mini-epidemic of abandonments. From December, 1998, to September, 1999, 13 babies were left in locations around Houston. Three of them died. In Indianapolis, a baby was left within 200 feet of a community hospital, but nobody saw him till it was too late. The abandoners are not all fringe kids either, the dispossessed girls of abusive or divorced homes. Some, like the young woman from New Jersey, come from good homes and good schools. Texas has passed a law that would now allow mothers to abandon their babies without fear of prosecution as long as they leave them in a safe place, a hospital or law enforcement agency, for example; 23 other states are now considering similar laws.
It's a bleak and complicated bargain. True, it might spare some newborn lives, but it also plants the seed that a young woman can give birth, cut the cord, and simply walk away. The baby will have no past, no record ever of where he or she came from, and no possibility of ever finding out -- how far we are willing to go to avoid talking openly about sex and pregnancy. Obviously, the law is preferable to the current state, but it has the perverse effect of letting girls off the hook. The truth is, if you get pregnant, you're in a new adult world, no matter your age, no matter the law, and have to step up to the plate, find people who will help you keep the baby or place him or her for adoption. Far better that than to completely abandon a newborn, even in a safe place, or certainly have that baby end up here. I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.