A newborn baby in America has become the fifth child in her state to be safely relinquished by means of a “safe haven baby box” this past year.
On the morning of Monday, July 17, firefighters from Station 1 in Kokomo, Indiana discovered a newborn baby girl inside their fire station’s safe haven baby deposit box, the fifth time in 2023 that a newborn was relinquished under the state’s Safe Haven Law.
“The Mother lovingly made the decision to make sure her daughter was safe and given excellent medical care by the Kokomo Firefighters and St Vincent/Ascension Paramedics,” said Chris Frazier, chief of the Kokomo Fire Department, in a press release. “Although these are hard choices to make, we applaud the mother for giving her daughter the chance at life through an anonymous, safe and legal option,” he added.
What are baby boxes?
Baby boxes or “baby hatches,” designed and implemented during various points in history to prevent the often lethal practice of infant abandonment, are a type of safety device that allows mothers to safely and anonymously relinquish their infants to emergency personnel should they no longer have the means to care for it.
Baby boxes have their roots in foundlings wheels, wooden cylinders built into the walls of convents, churches, and foundling hospitals, where mothers could place their newborn child, rotate the wheel so the child would be moved inside the building, and then ring a bell to alert the nuns inside of the child’s presence. The first known foundling wheel was opened in Rome in 1198 when Pope Innocent III was upset with the frequency that abandoned babies were discovered in the Tiber River. Most foundling wheels were abandoned in the 19th century with the opening of hospitals, public health, and social service programs.
Safe haven baby boxes began being reintroduced in Italy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and they arrived in the United States shortly after.
Today such boxes are located in the exterior walls of fire stations or hospitals where they are accessed by emergency personnel through a second door on the inside. Designed to lock automatically once the mother closes the outside door, the baby boxes are securely designed to protect any infant left inside, complete with ventilation, temperature regulators, and a silent alarm system which immediately alerts emergency personnel inside of the infant’s presence. Infants are immediately taken to receive medical attention, and in time are put up for adoption.
Is this legal?
The baby box system in the United States functions under what are known as “safe haven laws.” In 1999, following 13 abandoned infants in trash cans and dumpsters in Texas, Governor George W. Bush was prompted to pass state laws allowing parents to leave an infant up to 60 days of age in the care of emergency personnel without fear of prosecution on charges of neglect or abandonment. By 2008, safe haven laws had become the norm in all 50 states, albeit with slight variations.
Under the development of such protective laws, in 2016 a woman named Monica Kelsey helped spread the concept of baby boxes to the United States after witnessing a similar system during a previous visit to Cape Town in South Africa. Inspired by her own past, Kelsey, who had herself been abandoned as a newborn, founded an organization known as Safe Haven Baby Boxes in an attempt to “prevent illegal abandonment of newborns by raising awareness, offering a 24-hour hotline for mothers in crisis and offering the Safe Haven Baby Boxes as a last resort option for women who want to maintain complete anonymity.”
According to SHBB’s official website, the organization has, to date, received more than 8,000 calls from across the United States. It states, “Safe Haven Baby Boxes has referred over 500 women to crisis pregnancy centers, assisted in 10 adoption referrals, and have had over 130 legal Safe Haven surrenders. 32 babies have been surrendered in boxes since 2017. Three babies were surrendered to firefighters at Safe Haven Baby Box locations. Since April 2016, when the first box was installed, there have been no dead abandoned infants in the state of Indiana.”
SHBB reports that there are currently 163 baby boxes in total in the state of Indiana, with still more scattered throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, and Arizona. Currently, the organization boasts more than 200 baby boxes in the whole of the United States. Florida’s lone safe haven baby box opened in Ocala in 2020 and has had just one newborn safely relinquished. Other groups, too, organize safe haven baby boxes across the country.
Are there safe haven baby boxes in Canada?
While the number of baby boxes in the United States continues to skyrocket, Canada remains far behind her American counterpart in the fight against infant abandonment. Known as “Angel Cradles” in Canada, to date there are only four locations in the entire country where babies can be relinquished by means of an anonymous drop-box system. Three of these “cradles” are located in Alberta; two in Catholic hospitals in Edmonton, and the other at the Strathmore Fire Station in Strathmore. The only other Canadian cradle can be found in British Columbia at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
The lack of baby boxes in Canada is due largely to the nature of child abandonment laws in the Canadian criminal code. Unlike in the United States, where safe haven laws allow mothers to safely and anonymously leave their infants with emergency personnel at specific locations without threat of prosecution, such protections do not exist in Canada.
In Section 218 of the Canadian Criminal Code, the unlawful abandonment of any child under ten years of age is strictly prohibited if by such an abandonment the child’s “life is or is likely to be endangered or its health is or is likely to be permanently injured.”
However, while there is no such thing as a “safe haven law” in Canada, ambiguity within the code’s prohibition of child abandonment has allowed for the baby boxes which do exist in Canada to remain in operation. While Child and Family Services are obligated under the law to search for the child’s parents, the hospitals themselves have promised to refrain from trying to locate the parents as long as the child is unharmed, and local authorities in both Alberta and British Columbia have likewise agreed to consider the Angel Cradles as safe havens and to remain uninvolved.
In addition to Canada and the United States, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, and Red China are among a much wider number of countries across the globe that have implemented some means for the anonymous relinquishment of infants, including the use of baby boxes.
Opposition to safe haven baby boxes
However, despite the role that baby boxes have played and continue to play in saving infants from abandonment, not everyone sees eye to eye on the benefits of such a system, with much of the opposition stemming from a clear sympathy to the pro-abortion movement.
In a scathing article against the use of baby boxes published this past June, in The New Republic, Maria Laurino claimed that the implementation and promotion of such a system is merely a ploy by pro-lifers, with baby boxes being nothing more than a “shrewd mechanism for the anti-abortion movement to recast the debate by linking the act of infanticide to the decision to have an abortion.”
Laurino also attacked the Catholic Church, decrying baby boxes as one of the “most vivid modern expressions of the Roman Catholic Church’s centuries-long shaming of women for their sexuality and assertion of control over their bodies.”
Other groups and organizations such as Stop Baby Boxes Now, an online platform dedicated to fighting against the normalization of baby boxes, argue that there exists a plethora of reasons why baby boxes ought not to be normalized, claiming that baby boxes perpetrate the trivialization of child abandonment and endanger women by encouraging them to “keep problematic pregnancies a secret” and discouraging them from seeking help. Such people also claim that the baby box system “hides crimes such as rape, incest, and spousal/partner abuse,” and that it altogether fails to decrease infant mortality rates.
In her book The Price of Children – which is both anti-safe haven baby box and vehemently anti-Christian — Laurino notes that children are robbed of their birth identity and prevented from knowing their potentially vital familial medical history.
However, while the pro-abortion movement fights against the implementation of baby boxes, the pro-life movement is keen to support such a system due to its ability to protect the lives of vulnerable infants. Students for Life of America is one of many pro-life organizations which have spoken up in favor of the benefits reaped through the implementation of safe haven laws and baby boxes. “Safe Haven Laws provide a protective refuge for newborn babies that otherwise might be abandoned in an unsafe manner,” SFLA writes on their website.
“Without such a consequence-free option, parents have resorted to life-threatening alternatives to avoid parenting a child.” Students for Life reports that at least 4,127 newborn babies been saved at Safe Haven locations throughout the United States” since 1999. “ It is crucial that new parents who feel unequipped to raise their child be made aware of the Safe Haven option,” they state.
While those who oppose safe haven laws claim that it de-incentivizes mothers from seeking help, SHBB reminds their supporters that “women in crisis can call the national 24-hour hotline and can receive counseling and assistance free of charge.”
Yet, despite the fact that there are countless resources available to mothers in crisis — such as pregnancy care centers, hotlines, and counseling — the pro-life movement recognizes that many women simply feel too uncomfortable to make use of such resources. For such women, pro-lifers support baby hatches as an alternative to the complete and often desperate abandonment of an unwanted infant. “Women in crisis are sometimes hesitant to access these resources because they want to remain anonymous,” the website for St Paul’s Hospital in British Columbia explains. “Angel’s Cradle is a way for a woman to give up her newborn safely and remain anonymous.”
Despite controversy, Kelsey, the founder of SHBB, accurately sums up the importance of safe haven laws and baby boxes, reminding supporters and detractors alike that every life saved should be considered an accomplishment: “I think we all can agree that a baby box that calls 911 on its own is a better option than a dumpster.”