By Christina Ramey
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.
INDIANAPOLIS – In 1972, a 17-year-old girl in Ohio was raped and became pregnant.
When the teen gave birth to a baby girl, she abandoned her two hours later. A family adopted that newborn and named her Monica Kelsey. It would be 37 years until Kelsey would learn how she came into the world.
“Meeting my biological mother and understanding why she abandoned me allowed me the opportunity to show empathy to women in country who find themselves in similar situations,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey has made it her mission to ensure other children get a chance at life and started Safe Haven Baby Boxes. The program allows parents to anonymously surrender their healthy newborns in an electronically monitored device.
A baby box can be installed in the side of a hospital. As soon as a parent opens the baby box, law enforcement or medical staff are immediately alerted. Beginning July 1, hospitals in Indiana will be allowed to install these boxes with the hope of saving more lives.
Senate Enrolled Act 246 expands the Safe Haven Law, which allows a parent to give up his or her baby at a police station, fire station or a hospital emergency room within 30 days of birth, no questions asked. The new law provides civil immunity to hospitals that install a baby box as well as providing protections to the parent who surrenders an infant by using the device.
When a parent opens the baby box, the device immediately sends a 911 call and then sends another 911 call when the newborn is placed inside the box.
Additionally, the parent can push a button located inside the box that will send a third 911 call. Once the door closes, the box locks and cannot be opened by anyone that is not firefighter, police officer or a member of the medical field.
Indiana currently has two baby boxes in place. As soon as a parent opens up a baby box, the device immediately sends a 911 call and then sends another 911 call when the newborn is placed. The mother can also push a button located inside the box that will send a third 911 call. Once the door closes, the box locks and cannot be opened by anyone that is not firefighter, police officer or a member of the medical field. Photo submitted by Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
In Indiana, there are only two baby boxes but neither of them are at a hospital. Instead they are located at fire stations that are grandfathered in the bill.
No one has used the baby box at the Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Department in Michigan City, Indiana yet, but Lauren Smith, a member of the department, thinks it eventually will be used.
“We had several babies abandoned in the area within the last ten years which they had been found dead so I just thought it would be an asset to the community,” Smith said.
The fire station has received plenty of questions about the box. When people ask, they direct them to a hotline Kelsey set up.
“There’s a social worker that’s graciously on the other end of the hotline. They direct them to take the babies to a hospital if possible. That’s what their main goal is, to have them abandon them at a hospital to get immediate care,” Smith said.
If the mother hasn’t given birth yet, she is encouraged to go to a crisis pregnancy center to receive the help.
“We’ve never actually recommended the boxes to anyone that has called our hotline,” said Kelsey. “We received over a thousand calls on our hotline and we’ve referred 132 women to crisis pregnancy centers who called us wanting information about the Safe Haven Law.”
After calling the hotline, six parents have surrendered their newborns in person at a hospital and four parents have received adoption referrals, Kelsey said.
The baby boxes are a last resort.
“The first thing we can do is try to get this mother to utilize a crisis pregnancy center or an adoption referral or safe haven surrender face to face but if we try all those and she refuses and we don’t have a box in place then we’re going to find a dead baby and that’s unacceptable in our minds,” said Kelsey. “So, we try very hard every day to give these mothers another option.”
Correction: A previous version referred to Warren Smith by the wrong first name. TheStatehouseFile.com apologizes for the error.
Clarification: TheStatehouseFile.com has clarified this story. Monica Kelsey wished to express that the first step is to get a mother to consider a crisis pregnancy center or surrender a newborn in person.
Christina Ramey is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.