In February 2015, Indiana’s House unanimously passed approving baby boxes, climate-controlled boxes that function a bit like incubators where unwanted newborns can be safely left. The proposal passed earlier this year, and, late last month, baby boxes began to be installed throughout the state.
The baby boxes allow mothers to anonymously abandon unwanted newborns in an ostensibly safe and humane way. Once placed in the padded, heated box, the front door of the box locks, assuring safety. The boxes also feature an alarm that alerts the appropriate first responders so an infant’s time in the baby box would be as short as possible.
Indiana’s baby boxes are legal under what’s commonly called “safe haven” laws that allow for parents to abandon an infant at approved locations without legal repercussion. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have safe haven laws. Casey Cox, the Indiana House Representative who introduced the baby box bill, said that the boxes are a natural extension of the safe haven ideology, but allows parents to act in total anonymity.
Monica Kelsey, a pro-life activist who is one of the boxes most vocal supporters, told the Associated Press that the boxes guarantee complete anonymity for the mother and provides a safer alternative for the infant who might otherwise be exposed to harsh elements:
[Kelsey] spoke of a girl who called a hotline she volunteers for who wanted to know where a baby box was. The girl refused to go to a hospital or fire station to drop off the baby, but eventually, her boyfriend brought the baby to a hospital.
“This is not criminal,” Kelsey told the AP. “This is legal. We don’t want to push women away.”
The idea of baby boxes isn’t uniquely American. Baby boxes in Japan have housed hundreds of abandoned newborns since their introduction in 2007. In South Korea, too, one baby box has served as the site for some 600 abandoned newborns. There are also baby boxes located in Germany and Russia.
That doesn’t, of course, mean that the boxes aren’t controversial. Child’s rights advocates argue that the boxes make abandoning an infant too easy and are a band-aid solution to much larger problems that often lead to abandonment—namely, poverty and lack of proper support systems. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has called for a ban on the boxes in Europe and urges countries to instead invest in prevention programs. In 2012, UNCRC sociologist Maria Herczog told the Christian Science Monitor, “Baby boxes do not operate in the best interest of the child or the mother.” She added that they “encourage women to give birth in unsafe and life-threatening conditions.”
And there’s also no clear evidence that safe haven laws are particularly effective. The Washington Post notes that in Texas, the state that pioneered safe haven laws, only 40 women used the state’s law between 1999 and 2006. In comparison, during those years, 3,000 infants were abandoned in the state. Advocates of the boxes maintain, however, that saving a single life makes the project worth the investment.
Image via AP.