In Ocala, Florida, a newborn was surrendered to a Safe Haven Baby Box at the local fire station last week. The news made local headlines, and the surrender was reported as the first for the box in Ocala, the only one of its kind in Florida. The box was first installed in 2020.
To be sure, in a post-Roe America, the significance of a Safe Haven Baby Box draws renewed focus. The boxes are the creation of Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, who says she was abandoned as an infant in a hospital—her mother’s pregnancy was the result of rape. “I was actually whisked into this world by violence,” she told the New Yorker.
The boxes, which cost some $10,000 to install, are climate-controlled. When a baby is surrendered, a silent alarm sounds 60 seconds after the box is closed, “enough time for mom to get away,” Kelsey says. And once the door is closed, it locks, leaving little room for last-minute regret. The boxes are installed so they can be approached from the outside of a building (such as a fire station or hospital), and a window on the interior of the building allows safety or medical personnel to access the child. Protocol states that the baby is to be attended to and medically evaluated within five minutes of the surrender, and then adopted ideally within 30-45 days.
Baby boxes are not a new concept. As author Maria Laurino, whose forthcoming book, The Price of Children, explains, such devices existed in medieval Italy as well. Known as routas, they were installed in foundling homes, and instead of boxes, they were wheels. “With a turn of the wheel, the infant rotated inside the foundling home—and forever outside the mother’s reach,” writes Laurino for The New Republic. “The woman then rang a bell to alert an attendant that her baby had entered the institution. Hundreds of thousands of babies died from malnutrition and disease under this system, yet the Church had decided that a baptized baby, whatever its foundling home fate, was preferable to life with a sinful mother.”
The modern-day Safe Haven Baby Boxes obviously do a much better job of prioritizing the health and safety of any infant that is dropped off therein. The organization emphasizes the importance of anonymity for “mothers-in-crisis,” too, as means of combating “fear of recognition, the stigma associated with surrendering a child, or fear of prosecution due to ignorance and/or misunderstanding of the Safe Haven law,” according to the website. Under Safe Haven laws, staff members at hospitals and fire stations are trained to accept face-to-face interactions in which an infant is surrendered with the understanding that the parent or person surrendering the child cannot be prosecuted.
This, of course, presents its own complication. Anonymity means that there is no way to confirm that the child is, in fact, being surrendered by a biological parent. Critics also say that such discussions of such methods are too often used to advance an anti-abortion agenda. For example, in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization arguments before the Supreme Court, Justice Amy Coney Barrett mused that perhaps safe-haven laws are the solution to the pro-abortion argument against forced parenthood, as if asking someone to give birth and surrender their child is without complication, emotional or otherwise.
“It doesn’t seem to follow that pregnancy and then parenthood are all part of the same burden,” Justice Coney Barrett said.” And so it seems to me that the choice, more focused, would be between, say, the ability to get an abortion at 23 weeks, or the state requiring the woman to go 15, 16 weeks more and then terminate parental rights at the conclusion.”
No big deal, just an extra 15 or 16 weeks of pregnancy and then, you know, childbirth, which is a famously chill experience, and then surrendering the baby amid a flood of post-partum hormones.