Is the introduction of anonymous delivery associated with a reduction of high neonaticide rates in Austria?

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Authors' Reply

Sir,

Orthofer and Orthofer[1] have commented on our results of a diminished neonaticide rate after the implementation of anonymous birth in Austria in comparison with Sweden and Finland 1991–2009.[2] They have made a valuable request to use the data (for Austria only) from the beginning of statistical records in 1975.

We analysed police-reported neonaticide rates observed during the entire pre-law period (1975–2001) and compared them with the neonaticide rates observed during the post-law period 2002–11. We again found a significant decrease in the neonaticide rate during the post-law period (2002–11) compared with the pre-law period (1975–2001): Mann–Whitney U test, U = 77.5, Z = 2,12, < 0.05.

There are several other issues we contend might lead to varying conclusions. In our opinion using the numbers of the Article §79 (neonaticide) convictions as a source of data is debatable. This was described in our original Discussion section. In our previously conducted register-based study of neonaticides (1995–2005),[3] we found that only 11/23, (less than half of the women) were convicted under Article §79: six women were not charged at all, four were charged with murder or manslaughter, two women died after the offence and five bodies of dead neonates were found but no perpetrator could be found.[3]

Moreover, other studies have found that unidentified neonate corpses in police records are 13–37% of all neonaticides and conviction cases may be as low as 36% of all police-registered cases.[4]

Conviction data also do not cover consecutive neonaticides (i.e. a women kills more than one neonate). This accounted for eight neonaticides in our register-based neonaticide study covering this 11-year time span—only one sentence is given even if a women has killed more than one neonate.[5]

The specific complexities of the conviction data therefore, in our opinion, make it less useful in evaluating the anonymous birth law.

Taking into account all of these observations we believe that our previous results are robust and will stand examination.

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