Indiana lawmakers to revisit ‘baby boxes’ bill in 2016

In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo Monica Kelsey, a firefighter and medic who is president of Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc., poses with a prototype of a baby box. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers said Wednesday they will revisit a proposal next year to establish “baby boxes” for women to anonymously surrender their newborns. But first, they want the state health department to recommend protocols and a commission focused on improving children’s lives to examine the plan and suggest other ways to decrease child abandonment.

The Senate health committee unanimously approved an amendment requiring the commission and health officials to review the bill and report their findings by Jan. 1.

Wednesday’s vote followed sharp criticism from advocates of safe haven laws, who contend the proposal would make it easier to surrender a child without exploring other options and could deprive mothers of needed medical care. At least three safe haven groups have urged Indiana to focus instead on promoting its existing safe haven law.

No opponents attended Wednesday’s hearing, but impassioned supporters said the boxes — which originated in medieval times and are in use in Europe, Asia and even at an Arizona hospital — could supplement Indiana’s existing safe haven law. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have safe haven laws, which allow unharmed newborns to be surrendered without fear of prosecution.

“If every two years we save a baby because of this baby box, I think it’s worth it,” said Linda Znachko of He Knows Your Name Ministry, which recently buried a newborn whose body was found at an Indianapolis park in December.

The proposal unanimously passed the House in February, but Sen. Patricia Miller, who leads the Senate health committee, said there were many lingering questions. Getting input from the children’s commission and the health department will give lawmakers more information when revisiting the issue next session.

The commission will examine the use of the boxes, along with safe haven awareness programs and laws regarding emergency custody of abandoned children. The health department will recommend protocols for the installation and operation of the devices.

Rep. Casey Cox, who wrote the bill, said his bill was not meant as an indictment of what other safe haven groups have done and stressed that the boxes should be viewed as a last resort.

One committee member, Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, expressed skepticism that women who’ve just delivered a baby would seek out the lone box that might be in a community and noted that Indiana already has programs in place to help mothers in crisis.

But Barbara Hamblin, who said her birth mother left her in a trash can to die in 1956, said the boxes can make a difference.

“When you save one life, you’re not just saving one. You’re saving a generation and future generations,” she said.

 

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