Health Southern Indiana

Two bills making their way through the Indiana General Assembly would expand the state’s Safe Haven Law.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes offer a way for parents to anonymously surrender infants less than 30 days old. There are 53 boxes throughout Indiana which have a silent alarm, alerting a staffer to come for the baby.

Current law mandates that they be located at hospitals or professional fire stations that are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

But Republican State Rep. Randy Frye wants to make it easier for smaller communities to install baby boxes. House Bill 1032, which Frye authored, would allow some volunteer fire stations and emergency medical service (EMS) providers to install boxes.

“If we’re truly pro-life, we must give mothers options,” Frye said. “This is an option for a mother who’s willing to carry her baby to term and give that child life. But I think it’s a very brave thing for her to do.”

Qualifying fire stations would have to be in a municipality with a full-time police department under the bill. EMS providers would have to be staffed 24 hours a day.

Towns with fewer public services, such as hospitals, would benefit from the expansion, Frye said. But that doesn’t mean babies would go unattended for long periods of time, since the alarms will bring a first responder quickly.

“Somebody needs to be there in a short period of time, and we have police officers that are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Frye said. “They’ll get their volunteer firemen to be there very quickly, as well as the EMS, so not really worried that a baby would go unattended for very long.”

Frye’s bill was unanimously passed by the House on Tuesday. He expects the Senate to take up his bill by mid-March.

Monica Kelsey, founder and CEO of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, was abandoned just two hours after her birth. Her experience inspired her to help pregnant women by giving them options that her mother didn’t have.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes operates in Indiana and four other states, as far south as Florida and as far west as Arizona. Ten babies have been surrendered in the boxes since the first was installed in 2016, six of which happened last year in Indiana.

Kelsey said giving up a baby through the formal route may be confidential, but it still requires interaction with people from the community. The success of the boxes is due in part to the anonymity.

“If these parents don’t want their identity known [and] don’t want people to know the color of their skin or their gender, they can surrender in one of our baby boxes and still legally keep their child safe,” she said. “And their life is going to go on because they’re not going to be prosecuted.”

A separate bill authored by Republican Rep. Ryan Lauer would allow parents to call 911 and surrender infants to EMS providers.

By allowing parents to simply call 911, Lauer said it would prevent the obstacles that could come with trying to get to a baby box location. Indications of abuse or neglect would nullify the Safe Haven protections.

Lauer said a constituent pointed out that remaining anonymous can be difficult, even with the security provided by baby boxes.

“The important thing is that we’re expanding the options.”

Both bills have received bipartisan support, with each having Democratic co-authors. Rep. Mike Andrade co-authored Frye’s bill.

“A lot of times, we get caught up too much in our own personal opinions and our own personal platforms, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, and we get caught up too much in political stuff,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. And at the end of the day, we all need to be supportive of the voiceless.

Andrade said his mother was also faced with difficult circumstances surrounding his birth. Like Kelsey, his goal is to give women more choices.

Kelsey said parents looking for resources can call 866-992-2291 for support. The hotline is open 24 hours a day and serves all 50 states.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.