Photo Source: Pixabay
Last year, Indiana was the first state to install Safe Haven Baby Boxes within its towns, where mothers would be able to drop off their newborn babies. These boxes are padded and temperature controlled, and the box immediately alerts the local emergency services to the box’s location so that paramedics or firemen can take the baby in and put them up for adoption (CBS). The idea behind putting these boxes up was to develop upon something called “Safe Haven” or “Safe Surrender” laws. These laws allow a mother to leave her child at designated locations such as fire stations or hospitals (some states have other locations such as adoption centers), and if the baby is dropped off within a certain period of time after birth (also depends on the state; the period can be between 3 days and one year), then the mother is immune from prosecution (Safe Haven). Safe Haven laws have been around for awhile now, but Indiana’s passing of these baby drop boxes has brought on a bit more discussion.
The first “Safe Haven” law was passed in 1999 by Texas (No Bullying). After a string of infanticides due to abandonment came into the national consciousness, states began passing their own versions of Safe Haven laws to allow an anonymous and safe way for a mother to surrender her baby without being prosecuted for child abandonment and/or endangerment. As of 2017, 3,371 babies have been saved through the use of the designated Safe Haven locations (The Hope Box). The mothers could be victims of domestic violence or sex trafficking, and they come to a decision that it is better to leave the infant than to try to take care of them. While it has been recorded that these safe haven locations have contributed to saving newborns' lives, there has been controversy over its effectiveness. For instance, some research points to the fact that baby boxes actually contribute to something called "security theater," in which these measures are put in place to solve a socially constructed issue (PubMed). These researchers argue that the amount of time and effort put into the issue of child abandonment detracts from other children's issues such as abuse and neglect. For instance, over the past 10 years, 20,000 children have been killed in their own homes by family members (SPCC).
While people can agree on the fact that these safe haven laws have helped save babies’ lives, the move to have baby drop boxes was met with a lot of controversy to the point that some did not think that the bill would move out of legal limbo. People for the bill argued that these drop boxes were a much more anonymous way for a mother to safely relinquish her baby. Others argued that these drop boxes would keep women from being able to get the emotional or physical care they might need and puts more emphasis on the health of the baby. Indiana has had this new law for almost a year, and there have not been any issues currently reported; there has been reports, however, of emergency services rescuing a baby from the box already. It is difficult to say at this point whether or not any states will follow suit. At the time of writing this article, there has not been any legislature for baby drop-off boxes in any other state.