Indiana could become the first state to legalize infant drop boxes, a controversial method for parents to safely and anonymously surrender a baby they might otherwise abandon.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Casey Cox, R-Ft. Wayne, unanimously passed the Indiana house in late February. Cox said his legislation is a natural extension of infant safe-haven laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Under those laws, parents are able to relinquish custody of an infant at designated locations—most often hospitals, fire stations, and police stations—with no questions asked and no legal ramifications. States shield parents from prosecution for abandonment or neglect as long as the child is surrendered without any signs of abuse.
But safe-haven laws require a face-to-face interaction at drop-off. Indiana’s new law would eliminate that requirement and allow a mother in crisis to place a child in a secure, 2-foot-long “newborn safety incubator” that is heated and equipped with a motion sensor. She could leave without ever interacting with a person.
Dawn Geras, president of the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation in Chicago, said that, according to her count, more than 2,800 infants have been surrendered to safe-haven locations since the laws were enacted in 1999. Not many states track infant abandonment, but Geras said Illinois’ data might reflect much of the country. Since the Illinois safe-haven law was passed in 2001, 103 infants have been relinquished, but another 72 were illegally abandoned, and 37 of those did not survive.
Critics of the law contend the plan eliminates a vital face-to-face interaction wherein staff are able to assess the mother’s needs, discuss other options, and, if she decides to proceed with the surrender, at least gather medical history.
“If you use a baby box, you have stripped away that option,” Geras said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be done to improve safe-haven laws throughout the country, but that’s not one of them.”
Geras said her organization found that 25 percent of parents who initially planned to use the safe-haven law in Illinois chose to either keep the infant or put him or her up for adoption when given the chance to talk about other options.
Supporters, though, claim the proposed Indiana law gives another option to a woman who might unsafely discard or murder her child. They contend the box would be a last resort and would include a toll-free number where a woman could reach a counselor 24 hours a day who would ask her to surrender the baby in-person.
“We’re giving her the power to do what’s right,” said Monica Kelsey, a firefighter, medic, and the president of Indiana-based Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc. “We’re hoping that these girls know that once they push that button, their baby will be saved.” Kelsey was abandoned at birth at a hospital because she was conceived by rape. She suggested the boxes to Cox and is working to develop a prototype.
Kelsey said she is fighting for the boxes as a last-ditch effort to save the children of parents who decide that anonymous surrender is “the only thing they can do.”
— by Kiley Crossland