Indiana could be the first state to approve so-called "baby boxes" for abandoned newborns. The boxes look a bit like bread boxes, but are actually incubators meant to keep a newborn alive until it can be recovered. The boxes would also include an alarm that, once pressed, would alert first responders.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state representative Casey Cox, unanimously passed the Indiana House this week and is headed to the Senate.

The AP reports:

Cox says his bill is a natural progression of the "safe haven" laws that exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Those give parents a legal way to surrender newborns at hospitals, police stations and other facilities without fear of prosecution so long as the child hasn't been harmed.

Cox said his proposal draws on a centuries-old concept to help "those children that are left in the woods, those children that are abandoned in dangerous places."

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Though it would be new to the United States, the concept has been widely employed internationally. Baby hatches in Japan have received hundreds of newborns since their introduction, and similar boxes are used throughout Europe. But the idea remains controversial among children's rights advocates.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for a ban on the boxes in Europe and has urged countries to provide family planning and other support to address the root causes of abandonments, according to spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell.

As the AP points out, many argue that baby boxes and hatches make abandoning a newborn too easy and fail to address the reasons that parents choose to abandon a baby (poverty, medical problems, isolation, etc.).

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Dawn Geras, president of the Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation, says that since 1999, 1,400 children have been "found illegally abandoned, nearly two-thirds of whom have died." But, for her part, Geras still opposes the introduction of baby boxes to the United States:

Geras said many parents who surrender their children at safe haven sites need medical care that they won't get if they leave the baby in a box. Handing the child to a trained professional also provides an opportunity to determine whether the mother simply needs financial support or other help to develop a parenting plan.

Image via AP.