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Advocates of "Safe Haven" Laws at Odds Over "Baby Boxes"

Massachusetts leader: Rhetoric about "saving babies" drives mothers away from program

(MARLBOROUGH, Mass.) - The Senate could vote Tuesday on expanding the use of "baby boxes" for abandoned infants. But some advocates for abandoned-baby laws argue the bill is doubling down on the wrong approach.

Every state has a Safe Haven law promising mothers anonymity if instead of just abandoning an unwanted baby, they hand it off at a fire station or hospital. Safe Haven New England president Mike Morrisey contends Indiana has implemented its law all wrong. He says mothers who abandon a child are often teenagers or young women, and says the spokespeople won't be effective unless they're in that age group. He says the rhetoric about "saving babies" is more likely to rouse suspicions and drive women away.

Morrisey agrees confidentiality is critical, but charges the baby boxes undermine it. The one time a box was used, last year, he says "the press releases went out within seconds." Even without using the mother's name, he warns that glare of publicity will scare women off.

Safe Haven Indiana says many women don't trust the current law because they still have to meet someone face to face. The specially-made "baby boxes" sound a silent alarm inside the building while keeping the baby safe. Safe Haven Indiana founder Monica Kelsey says even with the safe haven law, some women have just left babies in a cardboard box on a lawn.

The Senate bill would allow baby boxes at fire stations instead of at hospitals only.

Morrisey says Indiana should be investing more time in raising awareness of the existing law. And because the boxes are heated, he contends they should be classified as incubators, which would require federal approval.

Last year was the first time Indiana had no child-abandonment deaths. Kelsey and Morrisey both insist that statistic proves their point. Kelsey attributes the death-free year to the first year of the baby box law. Morrisey says Massachusetts went seven years with just one child-abandonment death, and ascribes that streak to effective promotion of the safe haven law.

(Photo: lenzjona/Getty images)

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