Put up-Roe, Keepers Promote Technique to Give Up Newborns Anonymously

The Safe Haven Baby Box appeared at a firehouse in Carmel, Ind., with a library book drop. It was available for three years to anyone who wanted to give up a child anonymously.

However, no one ever used it until the beginning of April. When the alarm went off, Victor Andres, a firefighter, opened the box and found, to his disbelief, a newborn boy wrapped in towels.

The discovery made the local TV news, which praised the mother’s courage, calling it “a time to celebrate”. Later that month, Mr. Andres pulled another newborn, a girl, out of the box. In May, a third child appeared. By summer, three more infants were left at baby box locations across the state.

The baby boxes are part of the safe haven movement, which has long been closely linked to anti-abortion activism. Safe havens offer a way for desperate mothers to anonymously give up their newborns for adoption, and, advocates say, avoid hurting, abandoning or even killing them. There can be boxes in the sanctuaries that allow parents not to speak to anyone or even to be seen while they are obeying their children. Traditionally, shelters are places like hospitals and fire stations, where staff are trained to accept a face-to-face transfer of a parent in crisis.

All 50 states have safe haven laws to protect surrogate mothers from criminal charges. The first one, known as the “Baby Moses” law, was passed in Texas in 1999, after some women abandoned babies in trash cans or dumpsters. But what began as a way to prevent the most extreme cases of child abuse has become a wider phenomenon, supported especially among the religious right, that strongly promotes adoption as an alternative to abortion.

In the past five years, more than 12 states have passed laws allowing baby boxes or expanding safe haven options in other ways. And safe haven surrenders, experts in reproductive health and child welfare say, are likely to become more common after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade to cancel.

During oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Judge Amy Coney Barrett suggested that safe haven laws offered an alternative to abortion by allowing women to avoid the “burdens of parenting.” In the court’s decision, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. stated. safe haven laws as a “modern development” that eliminated the need for abortion rights in the majority view.

But for many experts on adoption and women’s health, safe havens are hardly a panacea.

For them, surrendering in a safe haven is a sign that a woman has fallen through the cracks of the current systems. They may have hidden their pregnancy and given birth without prenatal care, or they may have experienced domestic violence, drug addiction, homelessness or mental illness.

The adoptions themselves can also be problematic, and women may be unaware that parental rights are being terminated, leaving children with little knowledge of their origins.

If a parent is using safe haven, “there’s a crisis and the system has already failed in some way,” said Ryan Hanlon, president of the National Adoption Council.

Save shelters are rarely given up. The National Safe Haven Alliance estimates that 115 legal surrenders occurred in 2021. In recent years, there have been more than 100,000 domestic adoptions each year, and more than 600,000 abortions. Studies show that the vast majority of women who are denied an abortion are not interested in adoption and go on to raise their children.

But the safe haven movement has become much more prominent, thanks in part to the encouragement of an energetic activist with roots in anti-abortion activism, Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.

As Ms. Kelsey and her allies lobby across the country, states such as Indiana, Iowa and Virginia have tried to make safe havens easier, faster and more anonymous — allowing older children to leave, or allowing parents to leave the scene without speaking. with another adult or to share any medical history.

Some who work with safe haven children are concerned about the baby boxes, in particular. There are now over 100 across the country.

“Is this infant being given up without coercion?” asked Micah Orliss, director of the Safe Delivery Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “Is this a parent who is in a bad place and could use some time and discussion in hands-on experiences to make their decision?”

Ms. Kelsey is a former medic and firefighter, and an adoptee who says she was abandoned by her teenage mother, who was raped.

She first encountered a “safe” child — a concept that dates back to medieval Europe — on a 2013 trip to a church in Cape Town, South Africa, where she was on a pro-abstinence speaking tour.

She returned home to Indiana to found a nonprofit, Safe Haven Baby, and sent in her first baby box in 2016.

To use one of Ms. Kelsey’s boxes, a parent opens a metal drawer to reveal a temperature-controlled hospital bassinet. When the child is inside and the drawer is closed, it locks automatically; the parent cannot open it again. An alarm is triggered and facility staff can access the bassinet. The box also sends out a 911 call. Twenty-one children have been left in the boxes since 2017, and the average amount of time a child spends inside the box is less than two minutes, said Ms Kelsey.

She has raised money to put up dozens of billboards advertising the safe haven option. The ads feature a photo of a handsome firefighter cradling a newborn, and the Safe Haven Baby Box emergency hotline number.

Ms Kelsey said she had been in contact with legislators across the country who wanted to bring the boxes to their regions, and predicted that all 50 states would have their boxes within five years.

“We can all agree that a child should be put in a box and not in a dumpster to die,” she said.

Because of the anonymity, there is limited information about the parents who use safe havens. But Dr. Orliss, of the Los Angeles safe haven clinic, performs psychological and developmental evaluations on about 15 such children each year, often following them through their toddler years. His was research found more than half of the children have health or developmental problems, often resulting from inadequate prenatal care. In California, unlike in Indiana, safe haven submissions must be made in person, and parents are given an optional medical history questionnaire, which often indicates serious problems such as drug use.

Still, many children do well. Tessa Higgs, 37, a marketing manager in southern Indiana, adopted her 3-year-old daughter, Nola, after leaving the girl at a safe just hours after she was born. Ms. Higgs that the biological mother called the Safe Haven Baby Box hotline after seeing one of the group’s billboards.

“From day one, she was so healthy and happy and successful and passed all the developmental milestones,” said Ms. Higgs with Nola. “She is perfect in our eyes.”

For some women seeking help, the first point of contact is the Safe Haven Baby Box emergency hotline.

That hotline, and another hotline maintained by the Safe Haven National Alliance, tell callers where and how they can legally give up children, along with information about the traditional adoption process.

Safe haven groups say they inform callers that anonymous surrender is a last resort, and offer information on how to keep their children, including ways to get diapers, rent and childcare temporary.

“When a woman is given options, she will choose the one that is best for her,” said Ms. Kelsey. “And if that means she chooses a baby box during her crisis, we should all support her in her decision.”

But Ms. Kelsey’s hotline does not discuss the legal time limits on reunification with the child unless requested by callers, she said.

In Indiana, which has the majority of baby boxes, state law does not specify a timeline for terminating the rights of birth parents after surrendering at a safe distance, or for adoption. But according to Don VanDerMoere, the prosecutor in Owen County, Ind., who has experience with infant abandonment laws in the state, biological families are free to come forward until a court terminates parental rights, which may occur 45 to 60 days after anonymous. surrender

Because these mitigations are anonymous, they tend to result in closed adoptions. Birth parents cannot choose the parents, and adoptees are left with little or no information about their family of origin or medical history.

Mr Hanlon, of the National Adoption Council, research oriented which shows that over the long term birth parents feel happier about giving up their children if biological and adoptive families have a relationship.

And in safe haven cases, if a mother changes her mind, she must prove she is fit.

According to Mr. Kelsey, since his operation began, two women who said they put their babies in boxes have tried. claim back custody of their children. Such cases can take months or even years to resolve.

Birth mothers are also not immune from legal jeopardy, and may not be able to navigate the technicalities of each state’s safe haven law, said Lori Bruce, a medical ethicist at Yale.

While many states protect surrogate mothers from criminal prosecution if their children are healthy and unharmed, mothers in severe crisis—dealing with addiction or domestic abuse, for example—may not be protected if their child is somehow interfered with. their newborn babies.

The idea that a traumatized postpartum mother would be able to “Google the laws properly,” said Ms. Bruce, is slim.

With the passing of Roe, “we know we’re going to see more abandoned children,” she said. “My concern is that it means more prosecutors will be able to prosecute women for unsafely abandoning their children – or not following the letter of the law.”

On Friday, Indiana’s governor signed legislation banning most abortions, with narrow exceptions.

And the safe haven movement continues apace.

Ms Higgs, the adoptive mother, is in contact with Monica Kelsey from Safe Haven Baby Boxes. “The day I found out about Roe vs. Wade, I texted Monica and said, ‘Are you ready to get even busier?’”

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