The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 04, 2018 1:00 am

Baby box bill OKs use at fire stations

Proposal expands on 2017 law allowing them at hospitals

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A Wells County lawmaker announced legislation Wednesday to expand the use of so-called baby boxes this session to include fire stations.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, has authored Senate Bill 123, which follows a bill passed last year that allowed hospitals to have newborn incubators for women to drop off unwanted babies.

The 2017 effort also authorized two baby boxes already in place at fire stations in Woodburn and Michigan City.

Holdman said it's a “no-brainer” to allow other fire stations that are staffed 24 hours a day to also install baby boxes. The heated, cooled and padded incubators are attached to buildings and have an alarm that goes off when a baby is placed in one. They must be inspected monthly.

Holdman said they are an extension of Indiana's Safe Haven law, which allows mothers to give up their newborns without legal ramifications to certain emergency personnel. But with a baby box, a woman doesn't have to face a hospital worker or firefighter and give her name.

“Women want anonymity,” said Monica Kelsey, a Woodburn woman who runs Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc.

She referred to a baby who was left in a cardboard box on the steps of a firehouse in Delphos, Ohio, last year. That child survived, but a baby box is a much safer option, she said.

Indiana's first-ever baby box relinquishment happened Nov. 7 at the Michigan City fire station in LaPorte County. An alarm from the box signaled the local 911 center, and someone arrived within five minutes to get the child.

“The baby is now with adoptive parents,” Kelsey said. “I was able to meet the little girl. She is beautiful and she is perfect.”

She said 2017 is the first year in which a baby hasn't died in Indiana after being abandoned, such as in the trash or woods.

Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, said that although not everyone agrees on abortion issues, “we can all agree that relinquishing a baby” using a baby box is safer than placing a child in a snow bank because a mother panics.

The Indiana Department of Child Services has opposed baby boxes in the past, but Holdman said that since a change in leadership, he is unsure of the department's position this year.

About a dozen lawmakers attended Wednesday's announcement in support of the legislation.

No hospitals have added baby boxes since the law was changed last year, though Kelsey said her organization has contracts with three hospitals she would not name to add boxes by the spring.

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