“Safe Haven” baby boxes have been installed in at least two communities in Indiana, allowing mothers of unwanted newborns to anonymously drop them off after a period of time, with no questions asked.
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the baby boxes are essentially an extension of Indiana’s “Safe Haven” law. Indiana, like the other 49 states, has a law on the books that allows a mother to drop off an unwanted baby at a police station, fire station, EMS station, or hospital, no questions asked, within 40 days of the baby’s birth.
Other states’ safe haven laws vary, according to the Baby Safe Haven website. In California, you can only drop off an unwanted baby at a hospital, and only within three days of the baby’s birth. By contrast, in Missouri, you can drop off the baby up to a year after birth.
The so-called “baby boxes” don’t change anything about Indiana’s laws; they just take the human interaction component out of the process. In Woodburn or Michigan City, the two Indiana towns with the boxes, mothers can simply leave the unwanted newborns in the box and leave, without ever seeing another person.
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Monica Kelsey, a volunteer firefighter and founder of Baby Safe Haven, the non-profit group that provided the boxes, was herself abandoned as a baby, she tells NBC News.
“I was abandoned as an infant back in 1973, so I’ve always been very close to the safe haven law.”
Monica’s organization isn’t the only group that’s on board with the baby boxes. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, has pledged to cover the cost of 100 other boxes, at a cost of about $2,000 each.
If you’re concerned that the boxes allow women to abandon children to fend for themselves, don’t worry: the boxes are padded and climate-controlled, and they lock once they’re closed. More importantly, sensors inside automatically trigger a 911 call, summoning help to the site. A responding firefighter or police officer would then take the abandoned baby to a hospital for evaluation. From there, he or she would be placed into the state’s foster care system, awaiting adoption.
Still, the idea of baby boxes is not without its critics. In a 2015 report, the State Department recommended against the use of baby boxes, saying instead that states should focus on educating mothers about existing safe haven laws.
Baby boxes are actually commonplace in Europe — in fact, they’ve been there, in one form or another, for centuries (in medieval Europe, according to BBC News, unwanted babies could be dropped off at churches, monasteries, and convents).
Baby in the box: Safe haven infant hatches arrive in US: Baby hatches may be common in parts of Europe and Asia,… https://t.co/2CeKkko58c
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Whether or not they’re a good thing depends on whom you ask.
Steffanie Wolpert, one of the founders of the organization that manages baby boxes in Hamburg, Germany, says that they’re better than the alternative.
“In 1999, we had five babies abandoned and three of them were found dead. So we thought about this situation, and why it happened, and found a new way to help children to stay alive.”
However, according to child psychologist Maria Herczog, baby boxes send the wrong message.
“They send out the mistaken message to pregnant women that they are right to continue hiding their pregnancies, giving birth in uncontrolled circumstances and then abandoning their babies.”
While the jury may still be out on whether or not baby boxes are the right thing, for Kelsey, they’re the best option available to some women.
“The boxes are literally a last resort. They’re the last line of defense that we are going to give these women.”
Do you think baby boxes are a good thing, or are they a barbaric means of letting women escape responsibility for their babies?
[Image via Shutterstock/Olena Zaskochenko]