The real tragedy about baby abandonment is that no one knows how many babies are lost to it each year. But what experts do know is that it happens in every community and at every social and economic level across the U.S. And every baby that is lost to abandonment is one too many.
That is why the state of Indiana is taking a unique approach to the problem, with a new plan to create safe, anonymous locations for mothers to drop off babies without fear of legal action or harm to the baby. If the plan is approved, Indiana will become the first state to establish Safe Haven Baby Boxes. Essentially, these "boxes" will serve as newborn incubators until help arrives to take care of the baby.
Of course, in an ideal situation, these baby boxes would never be needed. But the fact remains that despite programs that focus on safe sex or crisis pregnancy intervention, there will still be women who for whatever reason feel their only choice is to abandon their newborn babies. Safe Haven Laws that already exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia allow mothers to legally abandon their babies at hospitals, fire stations and police stations without fear of prosecution as long as the baby has not been harmed in any way.
According to the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation in Chicago, safe haven laws have resulted in more than 2,800 safe surrenders since the laws were first enacted in 1999. But in that same time period, more than 1,400 other children have been found illegally abandoned. And two-thirds of those babies eventually died as a result.
The goal of Indiana's baby box program would be to provide an anonymous location for mothers to drop off their babies when they feel they have no other choice. The concept of a baby box is not a new one. A few hundred years ago, revolving doors known as "foundling wheels" were located in the front of many convents. Here, young mothers could drop off babies and rotate the door to ensure that their child was safely inside.
Indiana's Safe Haven boxes would not have a revolving door, but they would have sensors that would alert 9-1-1 staff when the door is opened and when a weight is placed inside. They would also likely include a silent alarm that mothers could push to be sure that their child is picked up as quickly as possible.
Critics argue that many women who attempt to abandon their babies simply need medical care or financial support — assistance that could be provided to them if they were handing their babies over to professionals trained to ask the right questions. But proponents counter that if even one baby can be kept alive by anonymous abandonment, it is worth making it an option.
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